The Fundamental Miracle

This is not the same thing as saying that all the recorded miracles are of equal religious importance. The most important matter is not the question of the floating axhead or the sun
standing still at Joshua's command. The most important matter is whether or not we are grasped by the fundamental miracle of Biblical faith. And if we are, we are entitled to and obligated to look at other reported miracles in relationship to the fundamental miracle.

What is the fundamental miracle? Surely, it is the fact -- the miraculous, inexplicable fact -- that God loves stumbling, sinful people like us. As this theme is developed throughout the Bible -- in God's choosing of Israel, his continued forgiveness, particularly his sending of his Son, his gift of the Holy Spirit, his concern with us to this very day -- we come to see how miraculous it all is, how totally unexpected, how far beyond anything we have a right to expect, how contrary to what we know of the way life usually goes. That God loves sinful men and enters into fellowship with them is the heart of the Biblical assertion. It is the fundamental miracle. Particularly as we see it focused in Jesus Christ, we see that it is the really important matter. After we understand that, we can go on to ask about this or that miracle not only concerning the trustworthiness of our report of it, but, more important, how and to what extent it helps to illumine and further clarify our understanding of the fundamental miracle of Jesus Christ.

So let us turn to examine more fully the fundamental miracle.

What More Is a Miracle?

However, it would not be enough just to leave the matter there. In the Bible, miracle is not simply "what we don't know." There is the more positive assertion that miracle is a recognition of God's power, that we are in no position to tell God what he can or cannot do. He determines that!

The Biblical writers were quite aware that God's "mighty acts" went beyond any human possibility of explanation. They are a way of asserting God's sovereignty over all that he has created. He is not "bound" by creation in the way we are. If God is truly the living Lord of all creation, then we must allow that he can express himself as he chooses, and not as we dictate. To believe in miracle is to believe that God can do new things. And it is from this sort of perspective that we must approach the fact of miracle in the Bible. We must make room for the possibility that God can do things that seem new and even strange from our point of view, although they may not be new or strange from his point of view.

What Is a Miracle?

We must make clear what we mean by "miracle." A popular definition of miracle is that it is something that is "contrary to nature." There are certain rules or laws at work in the universe. Every now and then something happens that is contrary to those laws, and this is a miracle.

But miracle can also be interpreted as something that is "contrary to what we know of nature." This definition, though more modest, may be more valuable. For it recognizes the limitations of our outlook, and suggests that there may be a more complete outlook than the one we possess. And it is precisely this that Biblical faith insists upon -- that God's outlook is the ultimate one and that we can never claim to share it. He may do things that seem strange to us but are not strange to him. It would even be true to say that from God's outlook there are no miracles -- God is simply working in ways that are "natural" to him, even if they appear "supernatural" to us. We have no right to limit God only to activities that we can understand.

Let's put it this way. Suppose you are a man from Mars. As your flying saucer circles above an American city, you see traffic and traffic lights. After a while you decide that there is a law which goes, "Cars move when the light is green, and stop when the light is red." But then a strange thing happens. All the cars pull over to the side of the street and a couple of cars race through six or seven red lights without stopping. Then the other cars start up again.

This leaves you highly perplexed. For this is contrary to the law. But actually it is not contrary to the law; it is only contrary to what you (a man from Mars, remember) know of the law. For the thing you do not know, sitting in a flying saucer, is that there is a provision in the law to take care of emergencies. When an ambulance and police car appear with sirens going, the other cars are required by law to pull over to the side of the street, and give them the right of way, red lights or no. The ambulance and the police cars are not breaking the law; they are illustrating part of the law that you didn't happen to know about. Your theory was all right as far as it went, but it didn't go far enough.

God's Sovereignty and Miracles

Let us now look at our second main challenge. The Bible speaks a great deal about the "mighty deeds" which the Lord of history performs. And there is probably no greater stumbling block for the modern reader than these miracles. (Here we will deal only with the Old Testament miracles. Chapter 9 discusses Jesus' miracles.) It seems impossible to a twentieth century reader that axheads should float, or that sticks should change to snakes, or that city walls should crumble because a trumpet was blown. What about it?

Faith vs. Faith -- Not Faith vs. Nonfaith

There is a false way of getting at the problem that must be shattered. This is the view that says that to believe in miracles takes a monumental act of faith, while not to believe in miracles is simply common sense, because miracles cannot happen. Notice carefully that the claim, "Miracles cannot happen," is just as dogmatic a statement, just as much an act of faith, as the claim, "Miracles can happen." Each statement implies a whole view of the universe to which the speaker has committed himself. The choice, then, is not a choice between faith or nonfaith. It is a choice between rival faiths. One person is saying, "I believe in a universe in which God can work in ways that I may not totally understand." The other person is saying, "I believe in a universe in which nothing can happen that I don't understand."

You can decide which view makes more sense to you.

Why Bother?

A further question which is raised when God's sovereignty is taken seriously, goes like this: "If God is really in control, why bother? He'll see that we do the things he wants us to do. Relax!"

Here is another area where what seems like a logical conclusion just doesn't follow. It is a matter of simple historical fact that people who have been convinced of the sovereignty of God have been extremely "active." If he has chosen them to do his will, then they must strive mightily to do just that! At the time of the Protestant Reformation, for example, the Calvinists were the people who took predestination most seriously. But there were no more active and responsible individuals in that entire period than the Calvinists. Why? Because they were convinced that God had chosen them to do his work, and that therefore nothing, absolutely nothing, could defeat them. Who could stand against the Lord's elect? Consequently they had a vigor that was marvelous (and sometimes terrifying) to behold. A seventeenth century writer put it clearly: "I had rather meet coming against me a whole regiment with drawn swords than one lone Calvinist convinced that he is doing the will of God."

The Significance of Election

The question of predestination is also raised when we take seriously the Old Testament claim that God has "chosen" the Jewish people as his special concern. (See further the section on "the covenant" in Chapter 15.) And when we realize that God chose them, not because they deserved it, but simply because he loved them, it all sounds highhanded and arbitrary. Why should God "choose" one nation instead of another? And what about those who are not chosen?

An important part of the answer is the reminder that the Jews were "chosen" not for special privileges but rather to bear special responsibilities. They did not have an easier time because they were God's chosen people. They had a tougher time. The pagans could in a sense be excused for their wrongdoing, but the Jews had no excuse -- they knew better! So we must rule out any notion of "favoritism" in the sense that election made things easier for the elected.

Furthermore we must see the election of the Jews in terms of its ultimate purpose, which was that through them God's love and concern could be expressed to all people: "I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth" ( Isa. 49: 6). And it is a matter of sober fact that it was through the events of Jewish history that the nations did come to see God at work, and were prepared for his final manifestation in Jesus Christ.

Notice further that in doing all this God does not override the gift of freedom which he has given us. The Jewish people can accept God or reject God. They usually reject him, just as we do. But this does not defeat God. He makes use of the very facts of their sin and rejection, working them into his plan, using them as a way of showing more clearly who he is and what he demands. It is almost as though a composer of a piece of orchestral music were to stand behind us as we played, and as we made mistakes, he were to alter the succeeding measures of the score to make use of those mistakes and weave them into the pattern of the piece. He would control the ultimate direction and outcome of the music, but he would do so in relation to the way we fulfilled his directions or failed to fulfill them. He would be master of the situation, and we would still be free.

The Biblical belief in election is a positive belief. It does not say, "God deliberately rejects most people and chooses only a few." It affirms that God does choose, and that those so chosen are the ones through whom he reaches out toward all men. It is not our job to puzzle about the fate of those "not chosen," and gloat over the fact (as Christians sometimes have) that "we made the team" and somebody else didn't. As a matter of fact, nobody but God knows who is "on the team." The "bad pagan" may actually be a lot closer to the Kingdom of God than you.

What About Predestination and Miracles

When Pascal, the famous French scientist, died, a small document was discovered on his person which contained the statement, "God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and scholars." Pascal wasn't interested in some vague idea of God as "the undifferentiated unity" or the "all-cohesive source of reality." He was concerned about the God of history, the God who is not aloof and unconcerned about men, but who acts, who does things, on the historical scene. This is right in line with the Bible's understanding of God, where we learn that God sent . . . .

God spoke . . . .

God called . . . .

God delivered . . . .

God worked . . . .

History is God's workshop, the place where he is active.

About This "Holy Spirit"

In our own day we generally have our greatest difficulty when we try to talk meaningfully about the Holy Spirit. If God the Father is little more than "a benevolent oblong blur," the Holy Spirit is just a blur. We are not alone in this difficulty. The same thing bothered certain early Christians.

SCENE: Ephesus. The home of some disciples. Enter Paul.

PAUL (anxious to get better acquainted): Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?

DISCIPLES (wondering what on earth Paul is talking about): No, we have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.

( Acts 19: 2)

And for us the situation is made even more confusing by the frequent ecclesiastical use of the old-fashioned word "ghost": for "Holy Spirit" read "Holy Ghost" in most hymnals, prayer books, and sermons. We think of "ghosts" in terms of the old Scottish collect:

From goblins and ghosties and long-legged beasties, And things that go BUMP in the dark, Good Lord, deliver us.

"Since we don't believe in ghosts of that sort any more, why should we believe in a Holy Ghost?" is a not unnatural rejoinder. As a matter of fact, the old Anglo-Saxon word from which this comes, gast, originally meant "breath," or "spirit," or "soul," which (as we shall see) is not far from the original Biblical meaning. How can we overcome these confusions?

Let us remember that the Holy Spirit is, in simplest definition, God in action. To be possessed by the Spirit is not simply to be "feeling inspirational" or to be imbued with "team spirit," but to be possessed by God. He was central to the experience of the early Christians, and he has been central for authentic Christian experience ever since. His reality is perhaps most clearly felt in community experience. Paul, you remember, talked about the "koinonia [community, fellowship] of the Holy Spirit" ( II Cor. 13: 14). The Church, then, is the sphere where His power is most fully operative. It is significant that almost everything that the early Christians do in the book of The Acts is attributed to the power of the Holy Spirit. "It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us . . ." (Acts 15: 28) is mature Christian conviction.

As we look at the notion of "spirit" in the Bible, certainly the dominant impression we gain is of "spirit" as a source of power. The Hebrew word used in the Old Testament, ruach, is developed from the notion of "wind," and comes to mean a manifestation of God's activity and presence. ("Take not thy holy ruach from me," Ps. 51: 11.) The new Testament word pneuma stands likewise for the dynamic activity of God at work in the lives of men. As Jesus put it, "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you" ( Acts 1: 8). The word-images that the early Christians use for the Holy Spirit also reflect this fact. He is not gentle and passive. On the contrary, "The place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit" ( Acts 4: 30). In the account of the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the apostles hear "a sound from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind." When they try to picture the Holy Spirit in a visual image, he appears as "tongues of fire." (Cf. Acts 2: 1-4.)

The Impact of God on the New Testament Folk

Now let us jump across many centuries, to about A.D. 55 or 60. We find Paul ending a letter to the Corinthians with the words, "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all" ( II Cor. 13: 14). This is curious talk! Is Paul referring to one God, or three? Are God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, all the same, or are they different?

We are treading upon formidable ground here, ground that goes by the name of the doctrine of the Trinity. There is no formal "doctrine of the Trinity" as such in the New Testament. But it is out of the experience of New Testament Christians that the doctrine of the Trinity was later formulated. Let this fact be underlined: The doctrine of the Trinity is not an attempt by theologians to make things tough for the average Christian by introducing a celestial mathematics which says 3 = 1. The doctrine of the Trinity is an attempt to describe, as systematically as possible, the content of the Christian experience of God.


Take one of these early Christians like Peter. He has grown up in a Jewish home. He knows the God of his fathers, the God and Lord of history to whom his Jewish people stand in special relationship. Through the worship of the synagogue, through studying the law, and through the experiences of his own life, this God has been a reality for Peter, one with whom he has had personal relationship. He knows with countless other Jews that God pities those who fear him, "as a father pities his children" ( Ps. 103: 13). Perhaps Peter has even called this God "Father."


But then one day Peter meets a man who is more than a man. This man confronts Peter as he mends nets, or fishes all night without luck. Peter makes himself the follower of this man Jesus and lives in close relationship with him. He finds that human categories won't explain him. So when Jesus asks Peter, "Who do you say that I am?" Peter replies, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" ( Matt. 16: 16). When Jesus confronts Peter, Peter cannot escape the conclusion that God is confronting him. This man is God -- and yet he is still man.


But the time comes when Jesus is no more physically present with the disciples. In spite of this fact, they do not feel that God has left them, for he has sent "the Holy Spirit." This is not another God, this is the same God, making himself known to them as a constant abiding presence and the source of their power. Peter has known God as Father, he has known God as Son, now he knows God as Spirit, and his life becomes a constant surrender to that power which is not his own, but rather God active and at work in him. God isn't to be talked about in the past tense -- he is active and at work right now in the present, with the promise that he will continue to be so in the future.

Thus the New Testament writers talk about God in these three ways. They are not constructing an intellectual puzzle; they are simply describing how the living God works upon their lives.

God as Redeemer

Granted, the word "redeemer" sounds old-fashioned. But it is an important Biblical word, and we can't get along without it. To "redeem," in common usage, is to buy back something we once owned. Thus we speak of redeeming a pledge (from a pawnbroker) or redeeming a promise (which we had broken but which we still want to make good).

In this sense, God seeks to "redeem" men, that is, to buy them back, or, more properly in his case, to win them back, or even to woo them back, to fellowship with him. The situation is as though men, who belong to God, had run away from him and gotten lost -- but that even though it was their fault, he had sought them out and reclaimed them for his own. The word "redemption" is thus a hopeful word. It says that God has not forsaken us, even if we have forsaken him, but that he seeks us constantly.

The clearest Biblical expression of this redemptive activity of God is the whole story of the coming of Christ into the world as God's outgoing, redemptive love made concrete and personal.

There is no need to be theoretical about this. We can look at a specific person, the prophet Hosea. Hosea knew that God was a God of justice and that he punished wrongdoing. But he also knew that that was not the end of the story. The realization of God's redemptive love came to him through a tragic personal experience. Hosea discovered that his wife Gomer was not faithful to him, but was an adulteress. The relationship between Hosea and Gomer was thus spoiled. Then Hosea realized that the same thing was true of the relationship between God and Israel. Israel too had proved faithless. She was likewise an adulteress, giving herself to other gods. Just as Gomer had broken her promise to be faithful to Hosea, so Israel had broken her promise to be faithful to God.So Hosea had to put Gomer out of his house. But he made an astonishing discovery. He discovered that even though Gomer had been unfaithful to him -- he still loved her! Although she did not "deserve" his love, that love was still there. Could he dare to believe this also of God -- that although Israel had been unfaithful to him he still loved her? Hosea dared to believe it. His restoration of Gomer to his own household dramatized what he felt certain God would do for his people. They would first be put out of "God's house" and sent into exile. But there would be a return! God's love for his people was such that he could not and would not give them up. Even when they were faithless, he would encompass them with "bands of love."

And I will betroth you to me for ever; I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness; and you shall know the Lord.

( Hos. 2: 19, 20)

A redeeming God, then is a seeking God, willing to restore fellowship because of his deep love.There are three parables of Jesus, each of which underscores a part of the italicized statement: One: In the parable of the Lost Sheep (Luke 15: 3-7) we are reminded that God is a seeking God. The shepherd does not wait at the sheepfold for the straggler to return. He goes out into the night to find the one sheep that has gotten lost.

Two: In the parable of the Lost Boy (Luke 15: 11-24) we are reminded that God is a forgiving God. When the boy finally comes to his senses and returns home, expecting the worst, he finds his father waiting, ready to forgive him.
Three: In the parable of the Workers in the Vineyard ( Matt. 20: 1-16) we are reminded that God's redeeming love is a gift, not something that can be earned. A number of men work from dawn to dusk for a denarius. But at various times during the day other men are employed, some at nine, some at noon, some at three, and some just before quitting time. And the master who has hired them gives each one the same wage-even those who worked only a few minutes! The parable is not a lesson in labor relations but a description of the Kingdom of God and of the fact that God's love toward each man is not expressed in terms of what each man earns, but is rather a sheer gift. God loves because it is characteristic of him to love, not because men have deserved it.

God's love and mercy

How can this talk of judgment be squared with the many Biblical assertions about God's love and mercy?

We need to remember that when we have spoken of God as judge, the description is still "to be continued" as the next section of this chapter will show. But before turning to the other affirmation about God we need to remember that we cannot eliminate the Biblical emphasis on God as judge. The danger is that we will sentimentalize God's love to such a degree that justice and judgment are no longer present. But love itself may have to include an element of stern judgment. Sentimental indulgent love may not be real love at all. The parents who say: "We can't understand why Johnny went wrong. We always gave him everything he wanted," may be less loving than the parents who sometimes said "No" to him and helped him to realize that he was living in a world where Johnny could not call all the signals.

Human wrongdoing and sin are an offense to God. They degrade his world and they represent a repudiation of his Lordship. He cannot simply "wink" at sin or refuse to take it seriously. It is wrong and must be punished. Otherwise there is no moral meaning to the universe and all we can say is that "anything goes." We are thus in the curious position of realizing that judgment can be the "negative side of love," love as it must express itself toward wrongdoing. Love must not let wrongdoing "get away with it." Thus justice and love are two sides of the same coin.

This means that God's judgment has a purpose behind it, which is redemptive. He does not punish simply to "be mean," but to try to change the wrongdoers. If they will not respond to persuasion, perhaps they will respond to sternness. Judgment is a kind of "shock treatment" which God employs to bring erring nations and peoples to their senses. The Biblical writers are able to appreciate that judgment is a way of making God's love reach them. The author of Ps. 76 points out that "God arose to establish judgment to save all the oppressed of the earth" ( Ps. 76: 9). There we have it in a nutshell -"judgment to save." Judgment for the purpose of salvation is an indispensable part of the Biblical notion of God as judge. With this in mind, we can turn to the "other side of the coin."

God as Righteous Judge

The Bible tells us that this creator God is also a righteous God, who expects his children to live righteously, and who holds them accountable when they do wrong. In other words, he is a judge. We can trace a kind of three-beat rhythm in the Biblical recognition of this fact -- the recurrent rhythm of demand, disaster, renewal.

1. God makes demands. He expects his children to live up to these demands. You are expected to do justice, for example, rather than injustice. You are expected to love God rather than idols or false gods. You are expected to love your neighbor as yourself, rather than to "do him dirt." And so on. There is no evading these demands. No one, not even you, can wriggle out from under them, nor can they be avoided. 2. When these demands are not heeded, disaster follows. This disaster is interpreted as God's judgment upon human sin. The Book of Amos is a good place to see this principle at work. Amos looks at the nations surrounding Israel one by one -- Damascus, Gaza, Tyre, Edom, Ammon, Moab, and Judah -- and says that each one will be punished for having defied God's will. And then comes the pay-off, the pay-off to end all pay-offs. For the very same thing will happen to the "people of God" themselves -- they too will be judged by God for their wrongdoing. No escape for them, just because they are the "chosen people." In fact, precisely because they are the chosen people, their punishment will be stiffer -- they should have known better. All men are judged. No exceptions.

3. What is needed to change the situation is for man to repent. The situation is not completely black. The prophets do not simply talk of gloom, but they talk of gloom in order to "wake men up," so that they will change before it is too late. As Amos puts it:

Seek good, and not evil,
that you may live;
and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you,
as you have said.
Hate evil, and love good,
and establish justice in the gate;
it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts,
will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.

( Amos 5: 14, 15)

To talk of God as judge, then, is to insist that history has moral meaning, that when people do wrong, they do not "get away with it" indefinitely. There comes a time when they are held accountable. Human life is in the hands and destiny of the righteous God, and if people defy him, they must expect to suffer the consequences. They will be judged by him and found wanting. The only way out is for men to change drastically.

Two Ways of Thinking

Let us make sure we understand that when we are dealing with religious questions and scientific questions, we are dealing with two different ways of describing reality, and that the two should not be confused. Genesis is not a scientific account of the Creation, and should not be so interpreted. It deals with "Why?" and its answer is "God." Modern science looks at the world and asks, "How" and its answer is that the world slowly evolved -- an answer that in no sense undermines belief in God.Here are four statements: 2+2=4.
I love you.
Babe Ruth hit 619 home runs in his major league career. I love you too.

It should be clear that statements one and three are of a different order from statements two and four. One and three are factually verifiable: "you can look them up." Statements two and four cannot be "proved" in the same way; but they can be much "truer" for the meaningful living of life than any number of so-called "factual" statements.

Look at the point in one other way, since it is important. In Shakespeare play As You Like It, we are told that there are ". . . tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones." The speaker is saying that there are lessons to be learned from the woods. The metaphors help to underline the truth of his statement. But the statement is obviously not "true" as an actual literal set of facts. Just let some factually minded proofreader get ahold of Shakespeare's play, and he would soon set Shakespeare straight! He would revise it as follows:

which we would decode to read "trunks in trees, stones in the running brooks, sermons in books." These statements would be factually true but quite unimportant. Shakespeare's statement is a valuable description of the woods, while the proofreader's statement is pointless, even though scientifically accurate.

Return now to the Creation stories. The point of the Creation stories is not illumined by a squabble over the number of hours in each "day" (and let it be remembered that the Bible says that "one day is with the Lord as a thousand years," so that there is really no conflict from that point of view). The important thing is that God created. (Read that sentence out loud twice, emphasizing first one, and then the other, italicized word.) Whether it was done in 24 hours, or 24,000 years, or 24,000,000,000, years, is quite beside the point. In other words, we can accept all that science has to tell us within its legitimate field of inquiry (which is answering the question "How?") and not be disturbed when we turn to religious inquiry (which deals with the question "Why?"). Our only quarrel will be with the people who claim that science has all the answers, that it can answer the question "Why?" as well as the question "How?" The scientist has a perfect right to tell us how old the world is, and how it has come to be what it is, by analyzing rock structures, tree rings, and so forth. But if he tries to tell us why the world has come into being at all, he is immediately in an area where he has to go beyond the strict scientific evidence.

The Genesis stories, then, are the product of religious devotion meditating on the significance of the Creation, and pointing out its inescapable religious truth and relevance to us.

But What About Genesis and Geology?

It would be pleasant to) leave the matter there. This could be a short chapter. We could feel that everything had worked out rather nicely. Unfortunately, we can't leave the matter there. For these opening portions of Genesis have been the subject of so much controversy that we cannot ignore the fact.

The difficulty arose about a hundred years ago when scientists began to point out that the world had taken millions, perhaps billions, of years to evolve into its present form. The stanch believers in the Bible said that this was blasphemy. Didn't the Bible say that God created the world in "six days"? Nobody was going to tell them that

6 days=1,000,000,000 years (or so).

Who was right -- the "religionists" or the scientists? To ask the question this way (as we usually do) is to miss the point. Let us rather ask first of all what these Creation stories are trying to say and what they are not trying to say. As we have seen, they are stories praising God, a God so great that he has created the universe. They are dealing with the religious question, "Why?" Why the world? Because God in his greatness and love has brought it into being. Now in making this profoundly important religious point, the authors say something of "how" God did all this, and it is here, and here only, that science raises some questions. For science investigates answers to the question, "How?" The authors of the Creation stories quite naturally based their stories on the scientific information available to them about 500 B.C. The fact that our scientific knowledge has changed considerably since then does not undercut or disprove the religious insights of the authors. There is no real "conflict" in believing in the scientific accuracy of modern evolution and at the same time believing in the religious accuracy of the Genesis stories.

The Genesis Stories -- with Supplements

One fact about the Bible which "every schoolboy knows" is that the opening chapters of Genesis tell about the creation of the world. Actually, as not every schoolboy knows, there are two accounts of the Creation, one in Gen., chs. 1: 1 to 2: 4a, and the other in Gen. 2: 4b-25. Before you continue this book, take five minutes to read them over, and another five minutes to think about them.

What is the real religious significance of these stories? When we attempt to answer such a question we discover that the accounts are much more profound than they appear to be on the surface. Here are some starters:

1. The stories are first of all stories about God. They breathe throughout the atmosphere of his majesty and power and holiness. The term "holy" in the Bible suggests the idea of "otherness"; that is, that God is other than, more than, the created order. To use a very long word, God is "transcendent"; that is, he is not to be confined within the world, but is above, beyond, outside, greater than, that which he has created. This understanding of God is implied throughout the Genesis stories, and it is made very explicit in the Isaiah writings, which were written at about the same time. The prophet of the Exile makes his point with incomparable beauty:

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand
and marked off the heavens with a span,
enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure
and weighed the mountains in scales
and the hills in a balance? . . .
Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
and are accounted as the dust on the scales;
behold, he takes up the isles like fine dust.
Lebanon would not suffice for fuel,
nor are its beasts enough for a burnt offering.
All the nations are as nothing before him,
they are accounted by him as less than nothing and
emptiness. . . .
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
and spreads them like a tent to dwell in;
who brings princes to nought,
and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.

( Isa. 40: 12, 15-17, 21-23)

This is the God of creation -- a God of majesty, power, transcendence, before whom we must stand in awe.

This means that one who thinks Biblically can never practice "nature worship," or believe that nature is God. Such a belief (called "pan-theism," that is, everything is God) is a pagan belief, which is repudiated by the Biblical emphasis that God creates nature, and is above and beyond nature. One of the psalms makes this distinction well.

Of old thou didst lay the foundation of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of thy hands.
They will perish, but thou dost endure;
they will all wear out like a garment.
Thou changest them like raiment, and they pass away;
but thou art the same, and thy years have no end.

( Ps. 102: 25-27)

2. A second thing we learn from the Creation stories is that all that is, is dependent upon God. I am not "the master of my fate" or "the captain of my soul." God is. We have not placed ourselves here. God has. "It is he that made us, and we are his" ( Ps. 100: 3). Life is not something we have earned or deserved, but something that has been given to us. It is a gift. We did not ask for it, or earn it. We simply received it. The girl you are in love with, the parents who look after you -- these are the gifts of the creator God. Everything derives its meaning and significance from God. He is not only the creator of the universe, but its sustainer.

Take a brief "time out" over that last word. To believe in creation in the Biblical sense is to believe that at every moment in time, the created order is dependent upon God for its continuation. Without him it would cease to be. It is not enough just to think of God as creating the world "once upon a time," and then sitting back and saying: "There now! I'll let it run itself." The Bible stresses the fact that creation is God's ceaseless activity. "My Father is working still, and I am working" ( John 5: 17) was the way Jesus summed it up.

3. The Creation stories emphasize very explicitly that creation is good, since it is God's handiwork. This theme is stressed particularly in the first Genesis story. On four occasions the identical wording about creation is used: "And God saw that it was good." (Compare Gen. 1: 12, 18, 21, 24.) God also saw that "the light was good" (v. 4) and toward the conclusion we find the summary statement, "And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good" (v. 31). (The natural reaction, "Then what about all the evil in the world?" we shall try to deal with in Chapters 11 and 12.)

God's world, then, is good. This means that we are to have a positive attitude toward it. We are not to "reject" the world, or throw up our hands in dismay at the thought of doing anything significant in it. Nobody who takes the goodness of creation seriously can say, "The world is so evil that I must escape it," or, "People are so bad that I hate them all," or, "There's no more point to living." Biblical religion is one of "worldaffirmation" rather than "world-denial" precisely because of its belief in the goodness of creation. (We will see this more clearly in the chapters later on Biblical ethics.)

4. Finally, the Creation stories remind us that since God created the world, there is meaning and purpose behind it. The world in which we live didn't "just happen." It is not simply the product of chance or fate. Rather, the universe is the result of God's purposeful activity. We are not "trapped" in an unfriendly and hostile universe. Rather, God has a plan and a direction for it. It follows that our main task is to try to discover that plan and make our lives fall into line with it, so that we are working with the creator God rather than against him. We are to help, rather than to hinder, the bringing about of those things which God had in mind when he created the world.

God the Creator

In the long, tortuous history through which the Jewish nation came to know the Lord, monotheism (belief in one God) finally became absolutely fundamental. And once the Jews had realized that there is one God and one God alone, a very important consequence of this belief became apparent to them: the one God, the ruler of all things, is also the creator of all things. The relationship of these ideas is strikingly illustrated in a passage from Isaiah, written during the Babylonian Exile:

For thus says the Lord,
who created the heavens
(he is God!),
who formed the earth and made it
(he established it;
he did not create it a chaos,
he formed it to be inhabited!):
"I am the LORD, and there is no other."

( Isa. 45: 18)

This note recurs again and again in the later chapters of Isaiah. These chapters, together with Gen., chs. 1; 2 (which in their present form also come from the Exilic period), are our main sources for the Biblical understanding of God as creator.

Old Testament comes out of Jewish history

We have simply to remember that the Old Testament comes out of the life and experience of hundreds of years of Jewish history, in which the sensitivity of the people is deepened, and through the course of which God makes himself more fully known to them as they are able to bear it and respond to him. God reveals himself to people where they are, and not somewhere else. He comes to their clouded vision, in the midst of their imperfect cultures, in their sin and idolatry, and they respond to his demands as they understand them, then and there. Their response is not perfect, for they are men and not God. Consequently, they bequeath to us insights that are not of uniform worth and significance. The Christian, who has seen this process of revelation come to its culmination in Christ, can use him as the "measuring stick" by which to judge all events within the Biblical revelation. We would not want to emulate many of the bloodthirsty things which the Israelites did in response to what they felt was the will of God for them. But we have this at least to learn from them -- that just as they were trying to be obedient to God's will as it came to them in their time, so we have a similar obligation to be obedient to God's will as it comes to us in our time.

Likewise, when we come across references to "other gods" in the earlier Biblical writings, we must place this belief in the context of the later firmly established Jewish belief that there is one God and only one, and that all men are to give allegiance to him. "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord" ( Deut. 6: 4) is the basic affirmation of mature Old Testament belief, and all else must be judged in the light of it.

In what follows, then, let us remember the danger, the difficulty, the directive, and the diagnosis. The story of the "evolution" of ideas about God is an interesting story, but it is not our concern here. We shall try to see the living God entering into the lives of the people of the Bible, so that we may be prepared for him to enter into our lives also.

A Danger, a Difficulty, a Directive, and a Diagnosis

This experience of the psalmist warns us against speaking too glibly about the God of the Bible. Let us therefore keep in mind a few further things.

First, a danger. There is something extremely arrogant in our presumption that we can understand or (even worse) write about God. For we always run the danger of reducing God to an "object," into a "something" about which we can write descriptions or make diagrams. Also, we need to remember that we haven't got "the whole story on God," that even when we have said all that we can say we have still barely scratched the surface. No one has a full and unimpeded vision of the pure divine majesty, and the story of Moses being allowed to see only God's "back" is a very early attempt to drive home this point. (See Ex. 33: 17-23.) So let us never think that we can reduce God to a series of statements or to four chapters in a book.

Second, a difliculty. We find it difficult to think of God ex. cept in terms that come from our own human experience. As
a result we describe God in terms that seem to make him like us-larger, perhaps, and older and more experienced, possibly with a long beard, sitting on a throne. This kind of limitation of God to grade-school notions must certainly be avoided. And yet, on the other side of the argument, we may notice that categories drawn from our own experience are the only categories in which we are able to think, and if we do not claim too much for them, some of the human categories we use may be a lot closer to the mark than impersonal ones. When we say that God is "personal," for example, we do not mean that he is "a person" like us, with arms, legs, and fingernails, but that, whatever else we may say about him, he is at least one with whom we can enter into personal relationship and fellowship. He may be much more (and certainly is), but since we enter into relationship with persons and not with stones, we use human rather than geological categories to talk about our relationship with God.

Every attempt to "put God into words" will involve a measure of distortion, since we are trying to describe in terms of our own experience someone who is vaster than all our experience. We must recognize the inadequacy of our human symbols at the same time that we continue to use them-since we have no others. It is like the artist trying to depict three dimensions on his flat two-dimensional canvas. Let us say that his picture has railroad tracks which disappear at the horizon. Actually, the tracks are parallel right to the horizon. But on the canvas they are not parallel. They converge toward each other and finally join. When we see the painting in an art gallery, the painter succeeds in telling us the truth (the tracks are parallel) by painting something else (his tracks are not parallel). Language about God is much the same. For we too, like the artist, are trying to put into the dimension of our own experience something which is vaster than our own experience can fully understand.

Third, a directive. We must remember that the Biblical understanding of God always retains a sense of mystery. The Latin phrase, mysterium tremendum, should ring a bell for anyone who tries to talk or write or think about God. There will always be an element of awe, of wonder, of something akin to fear and yet not quite the same as fear. Cold, descriptive words do not capture what this means, but an excerpt from The Wind in the Willows makes the point superbly. You may recall the time when Rat and Mole were looking for Portly, a baby otter who had gotten lost. They were transfixed by the unearthly music of the "piper at the gates of dawn," the animal's god Pan. They made their way toward the source of the music.

Then suddenly the Mole felt a great Awe fall upon him, an awe that turned his muscles to water, bowed his head, and rooted his feet to the ground. It was no panic terror-indeed he felt wonderfully at peace and happy -- but it was an awe that smote and held him and, without seeing, he knew it could only mean that some august Presence was very, very near.

Finally the Mole dared to look up, and found himself in the presence of "the Friend and Helper," with whom, safe and content, was the baby otter.

"Rat" he found breath to whisper, shaking. "Are you afraid?"

"Afraid?" murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love. "Afraid! Of Him? O, never never! And yet -- and yet -- O Mole, I am afraid."

In this "pagan" experience, Kenneth Grahame has unforgettably captured an authentic Biblical note, a note which is expressed in such passages as Isa. 6: 1-8; chs. 40; 45; Ex., ch. 3; Job 42: 1-6; and countless others.

Fourth, a diagnosis. We must face the disturbing fact that there are differing conceptions of God in the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament. At times he seems like a bloody tyrant, exulting in the death of men and women. At other times he embodies mercy and forgiveness. At times he is only one god among many, and at other times the only God.

The Moral: You Can't Escape from God

This is intolerable! No matter where the psalmist goes, God is there first. What the writer had said at first is true at last: "Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me." He is trapped. He cannot get away. This relentlessly pursuing God goes after him no matter where he attempts to flee.

And then, apparently, the psalmist realized that he was engaged in a losing battle. He couldn't get away from God. God was determined to have control over his life. Perhaps, strange thought, this was what life was all about. Perhaps he was made to surrender, to acknowledge this God, to turn about and meet him, rather than fleeing him. And so a new note enters into the psalm (v. 13). The writer turns from fear to praise. And now God's thoughts, instead of being fearful, are "precious" (v. 17). Now instead of fleeing from God for fear he will have to be remade, he turns to God in perfect trust and confidence and asks to be remade:

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any wicked way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!

( Ps. 139: 23, 24)

How to Escape from God

We have an account of one Biblical writer's attempt to escape from God, and what happened. This account is in Ps. 139. It is a good place to begin a study of the God of the Bible, because it will keep us from becoming "sentimental" about him.

God has come too close to this writer, who is terrified by the thought that the Lord of heaven and earth is very near. If you have a friend who can "see right through you" when you are bluffing, and who knows you almost too well, you can get a dim notion of how the writer felt, for he had discovered that God knew him all too well: "There is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether" (v. 4). A rather unpleasant situation!

And so, since God's nearness makes him squirm, he decides to put a lot of distance between himself and God. This is what people invariably do when the living God gets too close. (It is only the "tame" gods that we manufacture ourselves in whose presence we can remain comfortable.) For the living God makes demands. So the psalmist imagines four ways of escape: 1. He will "ascend up into heaven," seeking refuge, apparently, in a world that is so well-ordered that God will become unnecessary, a veritable "heaven" of his own imagination.
But it doesn't work. God is there.

2. So he decides to make his bed in Sheol, "the pit," the one place he can be sure God won't be.
But, worse luck, God is there, right where he has no business being!

3. The writer is panicky now, so he decides to run away, to the ends of the earth, "the uttermost parts of the sea." God won't be able to keep pace with him. He'll outwit God yet!
No luck. God is there ahead of him.

4. Finally, he decides to take cover under "darkness." Once more, God finds him.

No exit. No escape.

The Tally

This is what it adds up to, then: God reveals himself.

God reveals himself in historical events.

God reveals himself through persons.

God reveals himself supremely through one person-Jesus Christ.

God reveals himself through the life of a community.

God reveals himself through a book.

And our next job is to try to find out more about the God who reveals himself in these amazing ways.

God Reveals Himself Through a Book

How do we know all these things? They are recorded on the printed pages of our Bibles. Thus the Bible itself is a means by which God reveals himself to us, since it is by reading the Bible that we find him confronting us.

But we must be careful here. There is a difference between God and statements about God. The statements in the Bible have come out of the historical events which the Bible describes, and these statements have been gathered together, written down, pieced together, and translated, by men. We believe that these men were moved by the power and spirit of God in a singular way, but this did not make them cease to be men. We will therefore hear the word of men within the Bible as well as the word of God.

Perhaps a couple of illustrations can make this clear. Imagine that you have bought a victrola record. On the label you see the slogan "His Master's Voice." Listening to the record, you can hear the voice of a great master -- a Caruso, a Flagstad, or even a Bing Crosby. And yet, it is not just the master's voice. There are also other noises -- scratches which are the result of the fact that the record has been made by human beings. This does not mean that we fail to hear the master, but simply that we must be careful to distinguish between the noises that are the master's voice and those which are the surface noises of the record. So with the Bible, we are always faced with the responsibility of distinguishing between the sounds that are the Master's voice, and those that are the result of the human situation in which men wrote down the words we now have.

Or imagine that you are standing in front of a solid brick wall. Only if there is a window in the wall can you see through it. Even then, if you look at the windowpane, you cannot focus on the view beyond. So you must look through the windowpane and focus your attention on what lies beyond. Similarly, the Christian does not so much look at the Bible as through the Bible to the encounters between God and man which are described on the printed page, and which we could not see at all if we did not have the printed page. If we just look at the Bible, its statements and propositions, the image beyond may be blurred; we have not come to know God as fully as we should. But if we look through the Bible, it serves as a kind of window by means of which God and Christ are brought into true focus. Thus the Bible is the means by which God can make his impact upon us today.

God Reveals Himself Through the Life of a Community

Those who decide that the claims made about him are true comprise what is called the Christian Church. And in the life of the Church God continues to be active, to work, to reveal himself. Before we explore that notion we must remind ourselves that the Church did not just suddenly spring into existence "from scratch" about A.D. 30. The early Christians, as a matter of fact, often referred to themselves as the "new Israel," suggesting that they stood in a continuity with the old Israel. And the old Israel, as we have seen, was a nation called out, set apart, through whom God revealed himself. The Israelites came to see that they must be "a light to the nations" ( Isa. 42: 6), that is, that they in their turn must make known to the rest of the world the God with whom they stood in such intimate relationship.

Now this is precisely the task which the New Testament claims fell upon the Christian Church. The early Christians tried to spread the "good news" of what God had done in Christ to all men across the face of the earth. The "new Israel" took upon itself the job that the old Israel did not do because the old Israel did not accept Jesus as the promised Messiah. So from the Christian standpoint, the task of the Jewish nation is picked up and becomes the task of the Christian Church. And the claim is that through the history of that ongoing community, as recorded in both the Old and the New Testaments, the activity of the everliving God is still revealed. A quick look at the book of The Acts, for example, one of the most exciting documents in all literature, will show you how in the life of the Christian community the power and presence of the living God continued to be manifested in new ways. Since God is living and not dead, his activity does not cease at any point in time, but continues through the channel of his appointing -the fellowship of believers known as the Church.

God Reveals Himself Supremely Through One Person -- Jesus Christ

The entire Old Testament has a forward look about it. Some of the prophets talk about an Anointed One ("Messiah" is the word in Hebrew) who will come from God to show the people who God is, and what he demands of them. In other words, among all the things that were to happen in Jewish history, one thing was going to happen that would have more meaning than anything else; among all the persons of Jewish history there was going to be one person who would be more meaningful than anyone else, and through the events of the life of this person, the revelation of God would be made more fully than it had been made before. The Old Testament waits for "the fullness of time" when these things shall come to pass. At one stage, the people cry to God in a vivid image, "Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down" ( Isa. 64: 1).

The New Testament claim is that the cry has been answered. God has come to men, since men could not get to God. He has come in the only way they could possibly understand, as a person like themselves. This, so Christian faith claims, is the supreme revelation of God to man: God makes himself known most fully in the events clustered around one Jesus, who is called the Christ. ("Christ" is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew "Messiah." The words can be used interchangeably.) While the Old Testament talks in general terms about the Word of God, or creative power of God, the New Testament says in very specific terms as it looks at Jesus Christ, "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us" ( John 1: 14).

The implications of this momentous claim, the most staggering ever made, will occupy much of our attention throughout this book. What we must see clearly at this point is that when the Bible speaks of God it does not just talk about God; it shows us God at work on the human scene, in a human life. How, then, does God make himself known to us? Finally and conclusively, God makes himself known by coming to us himself in Jesus Christ, who enters into fellowship with us, taking upon himself the limitations of our human lot, even suffering and dying as the ultimate expression of God's love for us and of his desire to enter into fuller fellowship with us. And we have to decide what to do about him.

God Reveals Himself Through Persons

How do we know about the activity of God in the world of human events? We cannot just look at a complicated group of "events" and infer God from them, any more than we can look at nature and infer God from it. What we find in the Bible, in the face of this problem, is not merely a recital of history, but an interpretation of history.

The claim that God is at work in Jewish history, for example, is an interpretation put upon that history by men who look at it from a special point of view. The inner meaning of the Red Sea episode is a meaning that is communicated to us by persons whose belief in God causes them to understand that event in a very special way.

We find that to some people God seems to grant special insight. Through them his will and purpose come closer to the rest of us than would otherwise be the case. These men are called "prophets." We often think of a prophet as one who foretells the future, as though he had a divinely guaranteed crystal ball. While it is true that the Old Testament prophets often talked about the future and what it would bring, their main significance was as spokesmen of God, forthtellers of God's will quite as much as foretellers of the future. And they spoke with authority. They did not say timidly,

"It seems to me a reasonable possibility that under certain circumstances we might just possibly interpret the will of God to be thus-and-so."

No, when they had something to say, they thundered forth,

"THUS SAITH THE LORD!" and then proclaimed the will of God for that particular situation. The prophets told the people what God was going to do, and what he was at that moment doing; they pointed out that God was active, that he participated, that he did not sit back and leave things to run themselves. And in thus witnessing to an acting God, they were, and have been, a means by which that God has been revealed to the rest of us.

We shall be looking at the insights of these prophets in some detail as we go through this book. For the moment, simply notice the kind of God with whom the prophets acquaint us. He is a God of strict justice, who demands that we take justice seriously in our human dealings (Amos); he is a God also of great compassion and mercy, unwilling to forsake his people even though they deserve to be forsaken (Hosea); he is holy, high, and lifted up, someone "other" than us (Isaiah). Much of our own awareness of God is the result of the arresting claims of the prophets.

God Reveals Himself in Historical Events

Where do we find this God at work? Here the Bible is quite clear. God reveals himself right where people are -- in the midst of their hopes and hates, their loves and fears, their businesses and battles, which is to say, in historical events, and particularly in the historical events of the Jewish nation. As people for whom God is real look at the past, the present, and the future, they find their belief in him corroborated, clarified, and sometimes corrected. He does things -- history is his workshop. He gives evidence right where people are of who he is and what he wills to do. And though this always remains in part a mystery, nevertheless the place where some meaning enters in upon the mystery, the place where true relationship replaces mere information, is always in the midst of people's actual "human situation."This claim that God is at work right where people are is a tremendously significant claim. It means that to know God and be known of him you do not need to go off into a mystic trance, or cut yourself off from men, or go into permanent seclusion. God is right where you are, in your situation -- not somewhere else. Look at three examples of God's meeting people in their own historical situations:

EXAMPLE ONE: When the Children of Israel finally escaped from Pharaoh's pursuing armies, and got across the Red Sea, they did not congratulate themselves on their expert tactical maneuvering. On the contrary, they gave thanks to God who had delivered them from the enemy. And that interpretation of the event colored the whole of their later history. God had delivered them in their hour of peril; he was at work right where they were, with them in time of crisis.

EXAMPLE TWO: Centuries later these same Israelites were thoroughly trounced by the Babylonians and taken into captivity. And yet even in the whole tragic event of their defeat and exile they could see God revealing himself, showing them the consequences of failure to do his will. They discovered him at work, not by turning their backs on history, but right in the midst of history.

EXAMPLE THREE: When God finally revealed himself in a human life, this too occurred right where people were. The accounts of Jesus' birth remind us of this. The chance to see the Christchild was not offered to the shepherds while they were making a pilgrimage or even while they were in church, but while they were doing their proper job, which was taking care of sheep. The same news came to the Wise Men right where they were, engaged in their proper work, which was scanning the heavens. Christ himself is part of our history. He was born "in the days of Herod the king." He suffered "under Pontius Pilate." His life was datable.

The encounters between God and man take place right where people are, within the arena of human history.

God Reveals Himself

The first thing to be said is not so obvious as it might appear. The Bible makes it plain that God reveals himself. He does not simply reveal information about himself. Put another way, what we find in the Bible is not an accumulation of data about God, but rather a living God in living relationship with living people. These people have not lifted themselves by their own bootstraps into the presence of God. They testify that God has taken the initiative and sought them out. Their job is to respond, but the initiative lies with him. He reveals to them not just ideas or information, but himself. As a matter of fact, this is the only way in which it could possibly be done so that a relationship between God and man could result.

Look at it this way. A new high school student moves in next door. "On your own hook" you can discover a good deal about him: he is fifteen, has brown hair, goes to the same school you do, rides a bicycle expertly, has a dandy first baseman's glove, and gets perfumed letters, in tinted envelopes, written in delicate female script, about twice a week. All these facts you can discover by a little patient sleuthing.

And yet, do you really know him?

Of course not.

And how can you come to know him?

Only, in the last analysis, if he chooses to make himself known to you, if he is willing to take the initiative of entering into a relationship with you so that in that relationship he reveals himself to you. If this happens, you will not simply know things about him, you will know him. You and he will have met in living encounter.

This is something like the claim which the Bible makes about God. It says that God is known in the same kind of living encounter by which we come to know a living person. Unless he reveals himself he remains forever hidden from us. We cannot truly know him if all we have is information about him. We can't enter into relationship with information about God; we can enter into relationship only with God himself. So the Bible is not a textbook of doctrinal statements (though doctrinal statements can be derived from it) -- the Bible is an account of an encounter between God and his people.

How the Bible Answers the Question

Once upon a time a group of non-Jewish slaves tried to find out about the God of the Jewish nation. But it seemed hopeless. "Truly," they cried, "thou art a God who hidest thyself" ( Isa. 45: 15). God is a hidden God! For many people this has been the end of the matter. And yet there is a further meaning to the cry. For while the slaves realize that God does indeed hide himself, they now know where he is to be found. He is to be found in Israel. If you want to know where this hidden God is revealed, they are saying, look at the events of the life and history of the Jewish nation, for it is there that God has made himself known. To the Israelites they say: "Only in thee is God -- and not elsewhere, no Godhead at all! Truly with thee God hideth Himself. Israel's God is a Savior" ( Isa. 45: 14, 15, translated by G. A. Smith).

To say this is to say, in effect, "If you want to know how God makes himself known, then look at the events of the history of the Jewish people, and you will find him at work there, you will find him making himself known there, showing those people who he is, what he is like, what he demands of them, what he promises them." And so the Bible gives us the history of that nation Israel, and finally (in the New Testament) the story of the one in whom God is most fully made known.

Now this is extremely surprising. It is even shocking. For this Jewish nation was not a "great" nation as nations go. It was a tiny nation, always being overrun by the great nations, getting into trouble, carried off into captivity, having its cities, villages, and peoples uprooted and destroyed time and time again. On the stage of world history it was the doormat on which the great empires scuffed their boots-hardly a fit place to expect to find God at work! If we had been planning things we would certainly have chosen a different way to do it. But we were not planning things, and so we must listen to the Biblical claim that this is the way God planned it, and see why he did it his way rather than ours. What, then, is the Biblical answer to the question, "How does God make himself known?"

How Does God Make Himself Known?

Q. What is the chemical formula for salt?

A. You can get salt out of a saltshaker on a sticky day if you put a few grains of rice in the shaker beforehand.

Q. How can the subway system show a profit?

A. The best way to get from Grand Central to Broadway and 110th Street is to take a shuttle to Times Square and a northbound express with two red lights.

Question and Answer have somehow failed to make connections. One reason the answers are pointless is because they are answers to unasked questions. They might be very good answers if the questions were "How do you get salt out of a saltshaker on a sticky day?" or "How can I get from Grand Central to Broadway and 110th Street by subway?"

And part of our job, as we approach the Bible, is to learn to ask the right kinds of questions, the questions to which the Biblical answers are real answers.

It is pointless to ask of the Biblical writers:

Q. How can we prove the existence of God?

For the Biblical writers that kind of question would be quite beside the point. They were not talking about an idea of a "something somewhere" that might or might not exist. They were talking about the living Reality who had confronted them, changed their lives, entered into relationship with them. To try to "prove his existence" would be as though you and Joe discussed the question, "Does Fred really exist?" -- right under Fred's nose, with Fred perhaps contributing to the discussion from time to time. You are entitled to take Fred's existence for granted since you already know him. And that is what the Biblical writers do with God. He is the first and last fact of their lives. They don't waste their time trying to "prove" him; they try to see how he makes himself known, and what he demands of them.

So if we want to understand the Biblical answers we must ask the right question:

Q. How does God make himself known?

Then perhaps we can get somewhere.

The Need for a New Translation

Why bother with new translations, if we still have the King James Version, with its incomparably beautiful English prose? Here are just a few reasons: 1. The usage of English words has changed tremendously since 1611. In 1611, the word "prevent" meant "precede." In 1611, Phil. 4: 14 was translated, "Notwithstanding, ye have well done, that ye did communicate with my affliction." That may have been clear in 1611, but it is not very clear today. It simply means, "Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble."
2. A more basic reason for a new translation is that the sources available to the translators in 1611 were pitifully meager compared to those now on hand. The King James translators had a couple of dozen imperfect Greek manuscripts, none earlier than the tenth century, and their New Testament text had over 5,000 copyists' errors.
3. Recent archaeological discoveries have clarified our understanding of certain parts of the Biblical texts. Today there are thousands of manuscripts which have been dug up in Palestine and Egypt, and by comparing these, the translators can understand the original meaning of disputed passages much better. In 20th century, for example, in a cave near the Dead Sea, a group of manuscripts were discovered, some of which were written between the second and first centuries B.C. This is incomparably old for a manuscript -- a thousand years older than other existing manuscripts -- and the scroll that contains The Book of Isaiah has clarified passages that up until now have always been obscure.

A Rash of New Translations

Although Tyndale met a martyr's death, the impact of his work was felt, and it gradually became safer to produce an English Bible in England. In 1535, just ten years after Tyndale's New Testament appeared, the first complete printed Bible appeared in English, the work of Miles Coverdale, who used much of Tyndale's translation, but completed the Old Testament, which Tyndale had only partially done. Most of the portions of the Bible used in the present Episcopal Book of Common Prayer are based on Coverdale's version.

New translations appeared thick and fast in the ensuing years. The Great Bible ( 1539) had royal approval, and got its name because of its size. Copies of it were chained in the churches. Later a group of Puritans fled to Geneva, Switzerland, to be free from persecution during the reign of "Bloody Mary" (so called because of her persecution of Protestants), and while they were there, they produced the Geneva Bible ( 1560), which was the first Bible to contain numbered verses. This Bible was very unpopular among the English bishops because the translators put Calvinistic interpretations in the margins. The bishops countered with the Bishops' Bible ( 1568), but it was never popular except among the bishops.

The most famous of the English translations was the Authorized Version, usually called the King James Version ( 1611). Forty-seven scholars were appointed by King James I of England to do a new translation based on the original languages of Scripture and making use of all the available Eng. lish translations thus far made. And although many transla. tions have been made into English since then, no one of them has seriously challenged the popularity of the King James Ver. sion, until recently.

Smuggling for the Glory of God

The next translator, William Tyndale, was less fortunate, for Tyndale was still alive when the authorities clamped down on him, and he was strangled and burned for his pains. But Tyndale had two advantages in making his translation that Wycliffe did not have. Johann Gutenberg had invented movable type, so that Tyndale's translation was able to be printed in large quantities. And the Dutch scholar Erasmus had produced a scholarly edition of the Greek New Testament, so that Tyndale was able to base his translation on the original tongue, rather than being dependent on the Latin.

When things got too hot for Tyndale in England, he went to Germany and had his English Bible printed there. The Bibles were then smuggled into England in great bales of cotton. One angry bishop bought a lot of the Tyndale New Testaments and burned them publicly. Tyndale took the profits made from the bishop's purchases and printed a new edition!

First Glimpses of an English Bible

But how did the Bible get into English?

Legend says that back in the seventh century a stable hand at Whitby named Caedmon had sung portions of the Creation story and the life of Jesus in English, and we know that in the eighth century a great churchman known as "the Venerable Bede" translated the Fourth Gospel into English.

The first complete English translation, however, came from the pen of John Wycliffe (or Wiclif or Wyclif or Wickliffe or Wycklife -- they weren't particular about spelling in those days). Together with some scholars, he finished the New Testament in 1380 and the rest of the Bible by 1382, using Jerome's Vulgate as his text. All the copies, of course, had to be written out in longhand, and Wycliffe sent out groups of people called Lollards to read these Bibles and expound them to the people in the market places. On the basis of what he found in the Bible, Wycliffe opposed many elements in medieval Christianity, and was a forerunner of Protestantism. As a result, his writings were condemned and his books burned. Since Wycliffe had inconsiderately died before they could burn him too, the authorities dug up his bones and burned them. Such was the price one had to pay to make the Bible available to the people.

Luther Brings the Bible to the People

By the end of the Middle Ages, only priests and highly educated people (not necessarily synonymous) could read and understand Latin. Now new translations were needed in the languages ordinary people spoke, particularly since the Protestant Reformation had restored the Bible to the central place in the life of the Christian.

When a group of Martin Luther's friends spirited him off into hiding, at a time when his life was in danger, they probably had no idea that their concern for his safety would result in one of the most influential of all Biblical translations. Luther, hidden in the Wartburg Castle, used his time of enforced leisure to translate the New Testament into German ( 1522), just as later on he did the Old Testament ( 1534).

The German people had not had the full Bible in their own tongue before this time, and Luther did his translation in such a way that the Bible became a living book that they could understand. Instead of making a wooden literal translation, he tried to get the flavor of the events, so that people could imagine them taking place in their own locality. There were robbers on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho-it must have been just as dangerous as going through the Black Forest at night! When Luther translated Ps. 46 ("God is our refuge and strength") he conveyed this idea by conjuring up the picture of a strong medieval castle with thick walls, a wide moat, safe and strong and protecting, and gave the psalm the subtitle, "A mighty fortress is our God." The Germans knew what that meant! To make sure that they could understand the sacrificial requirements in Leviticus correctly, Luther checked the material with his butcher.

Jerome Produces the Vulgate

By the third century A.D. you could get a Greek Bible (the Septuagint) or one in Greek and Hebrew.

But perhaps you didn't read Greek, let alone Hebrew. The only language in which you knew your way around was Latin. And since most educated people were in the same situation, the pope commissioned a scholar named Jerome to translate the Bible into Latin. This translation, done between A.D. 385 and 405, is called the Vulgate (from the Latin vulgatus meaning "usual" or "common") because it was in the common or "vulgar" tongue of the people. It became the official translation of the Roman Catholic Church.

There is one interesting effect that this translation had on later Church history which illustrates the problem of translating the Bible. The Greek word used in Matt. 4: 17 is metanoite, which we would translate in English as "repent, turn about, begin again, get a fresh start." ("Repent, and believe in the gospel.") The Latin which Jerome used was poenitentiam agite, which cart be translated "repent" but which can also be translated "do penance," and it was in this latter sense that Jesus' command was understood in medieval Christendom. Jesus' words thus became, "Do penance and believe in the gospel," and they are so translated to this day in the Douay (Roman Catholic) New, Testament. Around this notion the sacrament of penance developed, and the belief that we must do certain things in order to secure God's forgiveness. When Protestant scholars went back to the original Greek, instead of stopping at the Latin, they found that there was no clear basis for the sacrament of penance in this verse, and it was abolished from Protestant practice.

Testament = Covenant = Agreement

It is time we cleared up one minor mystery.

The word "testament" has been smuggled into this discussion a number of times, without making clear just what it means. As a matter of fact, just what it means is by no means easy to say, since it is a poor translation of a Hebrew word. The better English word would be "covenant," an extremely important Biblical word which means the agreement or relationship established between God and man. The "Old Covenant" (what we call the Old Testament) is an account of the agreement between God and his people. The "New Covenant" (what we call the New Testament) is the account of the new relationship established between God and man in the person of Jesus Christ. Since the New Covenant completes rather than wipes out the Old Covenant, both Covenants or Testaments are included within our present Bible.

The Development of a "Canon"

Marcion, an early heretic, came to the false conclusion that the Old Testament and the New Testament were about two different gods. He decided to draw up a list of sacred writings that would meet with his approval. He began by excluding the entire Old Testament, and in his New Testament included only the Gospel of Luke and ten of Paul's letters that he felt were "safe."

Because of such antics, and because of the prevalence of other heresies, the Early Church gradually began to develop a standard list of authorized writings. They included the Old Testament, of course, seeing in it the preparation for the mighty acts of God fulfilled in the New Testament in Jesus Christ, and they gradually reached agreement about which, out of the many new Christian writings, should be approved. By A.D. 200 there was pretty general agreement about the Gospels, The Acts, and Paul's letters. Other writings were "on the border" for some time, but by A.D. 367 a list had been approved which contained the 27 books that comprise our present New Testament. These writings came to be known as the "canon," coming from a Greek word meaning "norm," or "standard," since they were the norm or standard for Christian faith, and still are.

A "New" Testament

It took about 700 years to get the Old Testament written down. The New Testament, by contrast, was completed in about 100 years. Its books were not written in Hebrew but in Greek. They were not written in the stately classical Greek of Plato, but in an ordinary, market-place dialect, known as koine. At that, the Gospels represent a kind of "translation," for Jesus and his disciples spoke, not Greek, but Aramaic, and their spoken Aramaic had to be translated into written Greek. You can find a few Aramaic expressions in the Gospels, such as Jesus'cry from the cross, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani" ( Mark 15: 34), and his words to a girl, "Talitha cumi" ( ch. 5: 41).

Many people fail to realize that the earliest New Testament writings are not the Gospels, but Paul's letters. The first of these, I Thessalonians, may be as early as A.D. 50. Paul had no idea that he was writing "sacred Scripture"; his letters were "occasional pieces," jotted down to help churches to deal with specific problems. They were almost always circulated among the early Christian churches, and a collection of them gradually developed. They form a substantial part of our New Testament.

The rest of the New Testament writings (except for the Gospels, which will be discussed in Chapter 9) fall into two main classifications. Some of them were written during times of persecution, such as the letter to the Hebrews, the letter called First Peter, and (while you might not guess it from a quick glance) Revelation. In these writings we get a clear witness to the bravery of the early Christians as they stood firm against a hostile pagan world.

Other letters combat a heresy which was common around the end of the first century. (A "heresy" is not a belief that is totally false; it is a belief that overemphasizes part of the truth, and can thus pretend to be the truth itself.) The stock heresy in this period was the notion that while Jesus was God incarnate, he was not fully man, but only seemed to have a human body. Hence the belief was called "Docetism," from the Greek word meaning "to seem." It goes without saying that if this belief had won the day it would have destroyed Christian faith, since the whole point of Christian faith was precisely the claim that Docetism denied, namely, that in Jesus God fully indwelt a human life, and that this was a true human life, not a fake. This situation helps us to appreciate more fully the emphasis of the Fourth Gospel, on "the Word made flesh," and similar statements in the three letters of John. Second Peter and portions of the "Pastoral Epistles" (I and II Timothy and Titus) combat this and other false positions.

This does not mean that the New Testament books are merely negative, but only that we can understand their positive message more adequately if we also know what they were seeking to deny.

Bible The First Translation

Remember that, except for a few scattered verses in Aramaic, these books were all written in Hebrew. Now the Hebrew alphabet had no vowels and no punctuation. What is more, all the letters were run together. If you wrote that way in English, you would get something like this:


If you can guess where the vowels go, and what they are, and how to divide the words thus found, you can finally figure out that this sentence reads:


And even though omitting the vowels saves space, it is obviously quite a stunt to read this kind of writing; to deal with this problem "vowel points" began to be used on later manuscripts, little marks placed under or over the consonants to indicate what vowels should be inserted where.

As time went on, more and more Jews learned Greek, and fewer and fewer could read Hebrew accurately. Therefore, beginning about 270 B.C. and extending up into the Christian Era, Jewish scholars made translations of the Old Testament from Hebrew into Greek. These documents were the ones used by the early Christians, and are known as the Septuagint (from septuaginta = seventy) because according to a tradition seventy (-two) scholars produced the translation in seventy (-two) days.

About a dozen books in the Septuagint were not included among the approved Jewish Scriptures by the Council of Jamnia. These books are called the Apocrypha (meaning "hidden" or "obscure"). Our Old Testament does not include them, since it is based upon the Hebrew documents. They are included in Roman Catholic Bibles, since the official Roman Catholic translation made extensive use of the Septuagint.

The Process Jells at Jamnia

While all this was going on, other books were being written, so that by about 200 B.C. most of the Old Testament material had been gathered together. In addition to the Hexateuch there were other historical narratives, the writings of the prophets, a hymnbook, a short story, a book of sad wailings, regulations ranging from where to worship to the accepted way to slaughter animals, and so forth. The variety was covered under three headings. The first heading was known as the Law, and covered the first five books of the Old Testament.

The Prophets comprised the second grouping, and included not only the major and minor prophets, but also many of the historical books, such as Joshua, Judges, etc. The remaining books were known simply as the Writings.

This collection, which came to 39 books in all, became more and more generally accepted, and a council of Jewish rabbis, meeting at Jamnia, Palestine, about A.D. 90 or 100 decided that no more books should be admitted to the group of sacred writings.

Getting It Down with an Alphabetical Twist

Our Old Testament is the end product of this gradual process. And our appreciation of its contents can be heightened by a recognition of how this process of "getting it down" into its present form was done. It is, of course, possible to read these books profitably without extensive knowledge of their origins, but to know how the accounts were woven together is often a help when we run across two or three different accounts of the same event. (You needn't remember every detail of what follows, but it will help if you can keep the general picture in mind.) Let us see how the first six books of the Old Testament (called the "Hexateuch," from the Greek meaning "six scrolls") came into their present form.

Here's how it happened. Perhaps as long ago as 900 B.C. (nearly 3,000 years ago!) an early writer compiled a series of stories about the tribes in southern Palestine, and sometime later additions were made to this account so that the Northern tribes would not be left out of the story. In these accounts, the Hebrew word used for God was one which we would write as "Yahweh," and which in Hebrew would be YHWH (or, as it is sometimes written, JHVH). For this reason the document is called the "J" document, and where JHVH occurs in the early part of our Old Testament we can be pretty sure that the passages in question are from "J."

Later on (perhaps between 750-700 B.C.) another writer wrote a similar account of the history, this time with chief emphasis on the Northern tribes. Since he did not believe that the "name" of JHVH was known until the time of Moses, he used another Hebrew word for God, Elohim. His document is therefore known as the "E" document. Later on the accounts were woven together, to form what you should be able to guess is called "JE."

Now the Northern tribes, who had by this time become a kingdom, met a disastrous military defeat in 722 B.C., and in the chaos following this experience a group of people came to feel that the disaster was due to the faulty worship of God. Consequently they wrote another history, with special emphasis on how worship should be conducted. About a hundred years after the defeat, in 621 B.C., this document was discovered in the Temple. It led to sweeping reforms. Much of this document seems to be contained in what we call "Deuteronomy," so it is called, naturally enough, "D." So important did it become that it was woven into the other historical accounts, to form "JED."

There was a final step. The Southern Kingdom likewise went down to military defeat, and the people were taken into exile. Once again they wrote their history, this time with special emphasis on the importance of Jerusalem as a center, of worship and of the priests as the directors of the religious life of the people. Because of its "priestly" emphasis this document is known as "P." The four documents were woven together to form "JEDP," and it is out of this composite that the books of Genesis through Joshua come. In the opening chapters of Genesis, for example, the account of the Creation in Gen. 1: 1 to 2: 4 is from the "T" strand, while the account in ch. 2: 4f. is from "J."

These different writers sometimes stress different elements in their nations' history, but they are united in their belief that their nations' history can be understood only in terms of God's sovereignty over that history. History as the workshop of God -- that is their theme. God speaks to them through these historical events, and they come to discern his will as they read the events in the light of that belief.

Bible: How It All Started

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that something wonderful has happened to you.

You have gotten 100 per cent in an algebra test you were sure you were going to flunk. Or, you have gotten a good job for the summer. Or, you have fallen in love.

What do you do?

You have to share the news with someone else. This doesn't mean necessarily that you are being boastful. You just have to let your joy "spill over" to someone else.

Now suppose, for the sake of argument, that something even more wonderful has happened.

You have had a lot of puzzling perplexities about the meaning of your life, and an experience has clarified them.

Or, you have fitfully tried to pray and one day found out that you were not praying to a Blank, but were in communion with the living God.

Or, you have experienced a bitter tragedy and discovered that you were not alone but that God was there with you.

What do you do?

Although at first you may be very shy about it, sooner or later you find that once again you have to share the news with someone else. That life makes sense, that God is real, that you are not alone -- these are things of such monumental importance that you simply cannot keep quiet about them once you know their truth.

Now suppose, once more for the sake of argument, that this loving God whom you now know makes it plain to you that he wants to use you to make him and his will more real to those about you.

What do you do this time?

Even though you may at first be timid and afraid, you finally must speak. You must share the news with all who will listen. You find yourself in the same situation as the prophet Amos: "The Lord God has spoken," he said, "who can but prophesy?" ( Amos 3: 8).

If you can imaginatively put yourself in these situations, then perhaps you can begin to understand why and how the Bible came to be written. If people have good news, they share it. If they have bad news, they share that too. And if they are conscious that God is real, and if they see life in terms of his demands, and his promises, then they have to share that viewpoint, and all that it implies, with others.

It is this sort of thing that we find taking place in the Bible. Some of the Biblical writers find that God has forced them to speak out in his name. These men we usually call "prophets." And the things they say are so important that they are written down for others to read. Or a great event takes place in Jewish history (a victory over the enemy, let us say) and a song is composed for the occasion. The song interprets the event as a vindication of the power and glory of God, so it becomes an important part of the people's understanding of how God relates himself to their lives. Or a tragic event takes place (a nation forced into exile, let us say) and someone has the Godgiven insight to see that this is the way God's love has to express itself toward those who rebel against him. The message is saved and the people begin to see that all history must be viewed as the theater where God is the chief actor. Or the songs which are written for their public worship of God come to be a means by which God's presence is realized even when they are not in the Temple -- so the songs are preserved and written down, along with the other sacred writings.

The point is that all these writings are a response to God's activity and concern with his people -- and over the centuries a sizable body of literature is built up. This literature takes on significance precisely because it has developed in this gradual way, for it makes plain that God deals with people right where they are, right in the struggles and agonies of their real fleshand-blood history.

Where Did the Bible Come From?

We have, then, a complete Bible -- printed, bound, ready to be read. But ask anyone how it came to be in its present form, and you're in for trouble. Instead of answers, you're liable to create a chaos of questions.

We must try to bring some order out of this chaos. Only as we know something of how this book came to be what it is can we fully appreciate it.

The Bible is not a book that "fell out of heaven" complete from start to finish. To believe such a thing may be good Mohammedan doctrine, for Moslems believe that the Koran made its appearance in finished form; it may be good Mormon doctrine, for Mormons believe that the Book of Mormon was given as a finished product to Joseph Smith. But it is not good Christian doctrine, for Christians are aware that the Bible did not suddenly appear all finished and done, but that it was "a long time in the making" -- over 900 years! Close this book and think for two minutes about the fact that Jesus was able to read what we call the Old Testament, and that when he was reading it, almost two thousand years ago, not a single one of the New Testament books had yet been written.

The Bible was not written in English. Our Bible is a translation. Jesus did not speak English. Moses did not talk with a Boston accent. Luke had never read Shakespeare. And unless you learn Hebrew and Greek, with a dash of Aramaic thrown in (something few readers of this book are likely to attempt in the near future), you will never read the Bible in the language in which the authors wrote it. Our English Bible is simply an attempt to give an accurate translation of materials which were originally written in other languages.

Participants in the Biblical drama

It means that when Jesus says to the disciples, "Who do men say that I am?" that is a question that is being directed at us as well. Who do we say that he is? We are being asked to decide, just as the disciples were being asked to decide.

It means that whether Jesus says, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy-laden," or whether he says, "You also outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity," he is talking to us as well as to his first century audience.

We become actors or participants, then, not only by knowing something of the historical situation in which a word is spoken or an event takes place, but chiefly by seeing that word or that event in relation to our own situation, so that the word becomes a word addressed to us, the event an event charged with meaning for us. We take part in the demands and the promises made by God, and in the hopes and fears of his people as they walk across the pages of this book. Their story is now our story. As they are "his people," so are we.

Here's one example of how it works. Shortly after Holland was overrun by the Nazis in World War II, a group of Dutch Christians were put in jail by the Gestapo. Months later, when one of them was to be released, he offered to take a message to the families of the others. What should they say? One of them finally produced a letter, which in rough translation went as follows:

Please try to understand that what has happened to us has actually worked out for the advancement of the gospel, since the prison guards and all the rest here are coming to know Christ. In fact, we hear that many of you on the outside have gained courage because of our imprisonment and are speaking the truth more boldly than ever before.

We hope that we shall not need to be ashamed because of our witness but that we may be bold enough so that Christ's influence will be spread by us, whether we live or whether we die.

Now those sentences should have a familiar ring. For what the writer of the letter had done was to take portions of a letter which Paul had written while he too was in prison, 1,900 years before ( Phil. 1: 12-20), and make them his own. The Dutch Christians, in sending this letter, were testifying that the experience of Paul was their experience, the message of Paul was their message, the God of Paul was their God.

They were participants in the Biblical drama.

The Bible is not a static collection of proof-text answers

There is an ethical difficulty in the position "literalists" sometimes adopt, that all the parts of the Bible are equally true and inspired. There is -- or ought to be -- a clear difference between the attitude of Ps. 137 toward the enemy, "Happy shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!" (v. 9) and Jesus' attitude toward his enemies, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" ( Luke 23: 34). Such statements are clearly not on the same level of spiritual significance. To put every part of the Bible on the same level of importance as every other part is to find oneself in the difficulty which faced the man who opened his Bible at random to get advice on a difficult problem, and had the misfortune to light on the words, "And Judas went and hanged himself." Not content with this cold comfort, he tried again, this time opening to the words, "Go and do likewise."

The Bible is not a static collection of proof-text answers to questions, to be used in such fashion as this, and such a realization exposes the main difficulty of approaching the Bible as a series of statements each one of which is literally true and of equal worth. The question is whether or not the God of the Bible actually chooses this way of revealing himself. Although we will be pursuing this problem in the next chapter, we must repeat again what has already been said, that in the Bible we find God revealing himself not so much in statements as in events, and persons, and acts. In other words, a personal God strives to enter into personal relationship with his children. We cannot enter into personal relationship with an impersonal book, but we can enter into personal relationship with a person, with Jesus Clirist. And it is thus the person about whom the book is written, rather than the book itself, who is the subject and object of our faith. Protestants firmly believe in "the authority of the Bible," but this is because it is the Bible which has brought them face to face with Jesus Christ. God confronts them in a living person, not merely in information about that person.

It is somewhat like a letter from a friend. You don't value the letter so much for its phrases and style as because it brings the friend closer and helps you to know him better. The constant presence of the letter may be nice, but it is a pretty poor substitute for the constant presence of the friend. (Anybody who has been in love will understand this.) Luther made the point well -- if we may change our image rather abruptlywhen he said, "The Bible is the cradle in which Christ lies."

Another way of using the Bible has been to interpret it critically, that is, from the point of view of a literary study of the text. For a long time scholars have studied early Biblical manuscripts, trying to determine when the books of the Bible were written, by whom they were written, to whom, the situation out of which they came, and so forth. Since people sometimes deride this way of interpreting the Bible, it must be stressed that Christians today owe an immense debt to these scholars. Because of their efforts, we now have the tools for a better understanding of the Bible than has ever been possible before. To know when a book was written, by whom, for whom, what the author's intention was -- all this is clear gain.

The main difficulty with this approach, therefore, is not that it is wrong or irreverent, but that by itself it is incomplete. It is interesting to learn, for example, that there are two Creation stories in Genesis, and it is fascinating to compare their similarities and differences. But this is valuable only as a tool to help us toward more fundamental problems: What is the meaning of the stories of the Creation? What do they tell us about God's concern for us? What are the implications of the notion that God has made the earth, and particularly that he has made us? The critical approach by itself does not give us answers to these questions.

4. The above ways, then, are not fully adequate ways of understanding and using the Bible. Is there a more significant way? The way that will be suggested here (and will be presupposed throughout the rest of this book) is that we read the Bible as actors who are involved in the Biblical drama of God's search for men.

We are part of this drama. We cannot separate ourselves from it. We cannot understand the Bible as an ancient manuscript chiefly of interest to antiquarians or museum keepers. We must understand it as a living book addressed to us, in which we identify ourselves with those who stand under God's judgment and those who receive God's forgiveness. The fatal error is to read the Bible as a spectator rather than as a participant, to make the faulty assumption that we can sit in a box seat watching the drama, when actually we are on the stage taking part in the drama.

This means that when Amos thunders out to the people of Bethel that they are guilty of wrongdoing, we hear him speaking to us as well. He not only tells us what was wrong in Bethel -- he is telling us what is wrong in Minneapolis or Houston or Grovers Corners or wherever we may be living today.