The Bible Made Impossible

Bible Nerd Alert — Some heady thoughts regarding…

Smith, Christian. The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2012.

In Part 1 of the book—comprising the first four chapters—Smith, a Harvard University sociology professor, does an excellent job explaining biblicism and its “impossibility” in light of the 2000 years of “pervasive interpretive pluralism.”

But then comes Part 2—and especially Chapter 5: “The Christocentric Hermeneutical Key.” What little hair I have left was being threatened by Smith’s insistence that the Bible (here referring to the 66-book Protestant Bible), “[in] its entirety and in all its parts it is nothing but this witness of Christ, his life, his death, and his resurrection” (here quoting Bonhoeffer). Smith acknowledges that “the view recommended here is a decidedly and unapologetically Christ-centered approach to scripture,” and thus he affirms that “Scripture’s internal unity or harmony…derives from its central purpose in divine revelation of telling us about Jesus Christ.” He goes on to state (here quoting Stott), “Whenever we read the Bible, we must look for Christ. And we must go on looking until we see and until we believe.” Of scripture, Smith says, “What holds it together is the reality of Christ himself, the living, eternal Son through whom God reconciles the world to himself in love.”

Referring specifically to the Christian Old Testament Smith states that “Christ is the deeper sense of the Old Testament—at times more obvious than others—in whom the Old Testament drama as a whole finds it ultimate goal or telos…” because “Jesus Christ is the true and final Word of God, in relation to whom scripture is God’s secondary, written word of witness and testimony. …[and] that before and above the Bible as God’s written word stands Jesus Christ, who is God’s living Word and ultimate and final self-revelation.” In fact, Smith boldly asserts that “the Bible did not and could not exist or have any meaning without the higher, truer, more final Word of God, Jesus Christ. … To argue that our only lifeline to God is the Bible is way off base. It also fails to recognize the many ways we know about and simply know Jesus Christ.”

I would maintain, however, that the ONLY way we know anything about Jesus, his life, his teachings, his death and claims to his resurrection and his purported claims to being divine, is primarily through that portion of the Christian Scriptures we call “the Gospels.” Apart from the testimony and claims made by the authors of these texts, we would know precious little about Jesus and virtually nothing of his life, teachings, resurrection and claims to being one with God. In fact, without the Christian writings no one would be able to read the Jewish Scriptures and come to the conviction that Jesus of Nazareth was THE Messiah, the Word become flesh, the only begotten of God, and thus, the Son of God.

Thus, those who choose to believe that Jesus is the Christ (Messiah), the Son of God, put their trust in the veracity, primarily (not secondarily), of the testimony of the early followers of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels, with the supporting testimony of the Epistles. Those who do not believe that Jesus is the Son of God do not accept the accuracy or historicity of many (or perhaps any) of the claims made by the authors of the NT texts.

Smith claims that the Christocentric reading of Scripture addresses or, at least, minimizes the problem of pervasive interpretive pluralism. However, I disagree. I know many who consciously or unconsciously read the Bible Christocentrically who nonetheless interpret huge portions of Scripture differently, not just in minor matters, but major. I would maintain that is because even those books of the Bible that directly witness to Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, are also multivocal, polysemic and multivalent, and thus are open to different, and even contradictory, interpretations.

I see numerous flaws in the logic of a Christocentric reading of scripture—as espoused by the vast majority of conservative evangelical and fundamentalist Christians—especially as a reading into (eisegesis) Scripture of our presuppositions. Thus, I reject it as an adequate solution to, or convincing refutation of, the challenge of Scripture’s basic persistent characteristic of being polyphonic (multivocal).

I have numerous other thoughts—which I may post in future articles—about this fashionable, and thus prevalent, hermeneutical lens, espoused by evangelical and fundamentalist Christian scholars and clergy, which I find logically flawed and hermeneutically inadequate.   

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