When Reading the Text Do You Know Whose Talking?

I’ve been reading an amazing book by Abraham Heschel a leading Jewish Rabbi, theologian and philosopher of the 20th century. In his book “God in search of Man” I stumbled across a phrase that captured my attention and said so eloquently a key phrase. He said “There is in the bible God’s word to man, but there is also man’s word to Him and about Him; not only God’s disclosure but man’s insight.” I’d like to unpack that statement just a little.

Dan has fleshed out quite a bit on the notion of how we should understand biblical inspiration here. I would like to add a little color from my own perspective and studies and use Heschel’s quote as a baseline.

The Jews had different names for different sections of the Tanakh or Jewish bible. These sections were the Torah, the Prophets and the writings. Each section was to be understood within the greater framework, context and purpose. The Torah and the Prophets mostly contained God’s words to man but the writings were more heavily focused on man’s words to God.

The danger is when we use the term God’s word holistically about every word in the bible we enter into a contextual trap in which we don’t recognize who is speaking and can then run into interpretive errors.

As pointed out in the ROCK summary it is important to rightly divide God’s words from man’s words when we are reading. This does not mean that man’s words are not valuable or do not communicate something true about God. On the contrary they can be very valuable in instructing and showing us how those patriarch’s reacted rightly and wrongly. Man’s words and actions were recorded to show us both good and bad examples of how to relate to God and to others.

One other thing i’ve thought about as well as we seek to be wise to understand the text correctly is, do we also need to separate God’s word’s to one human being from God’s words to all of humanity?

This is one thing I struggle with quite a bit. For example when God spoke to David was he also speaking to me? Is what God said that’s true of David true about me?

I know this sounds like I am now complicating an already complicated problem but I feel that understanding these issues is key to correct biblical exegesis.

I lean in the direction that what God said to David was true for David but not for me. I feel there are plenty examples of this throughout the text where God’s words that are recorded were for one individual but not humanity.

So to summarize, we need to understand what the bible is and how to use it. All though it contains God’s words to man and man’s words to God, it contains within itself everything that God needs us to know. It is full and complete, the total Counsel of God for man.

3 thoughts on “When Reading the Text Do You Know Whose Talking?”

  1. Dan Martin

    Ben, these are helpful insights. I’m particularly struck by your question about when God’s word to one man is (or is not) God’s word to all men, or specifically to us. It’s not a question I’ve thought a lot about, but I agree that it’s another important element of Rightly Dividing.

  2. Ruth Martin

    Another important distinction is whether the text claims “thus says the Lord,” or simply “so-and-so SAID, “thus says the Lord.'”
    There are times when an impostor made that claim and it was not true!
    That SHOULD be a problem for the “every word, cover to cover” people; but I don’t think it usually is.
    Another thing that is usually ignored by the “flat book” contingent, is Jesus statement, recorded in both Matthew and Luke, “The Law and the Prophets were (in effect) UNTIL JOHN; since then, the Kingdom of God is being proclaimed.” This is an important impetus to my conviction that the New Testament must be the ultimate authority.

  3. Ben Bajarin Post Author

    Very interesting thoughts Mrs. Martin. I’m intrigued with the idea of the NT being the ultimate authority. I’ve thought about this but never really put all the pieces together.

    N.T Wright mentioned shades of this in his classic book “The Climax of the Covenant.” It seems as though if the OT was a collection of stories or events in which God was revealing himself to man and if Hebrews is right that Jesus was the ultimate revelation of God, then the NT witness of Jesus becomes our new baseline.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *