The Big List

Just four weeks in and I’ve failed on my attempt to get you a post each Monday.  To be fair, I spent the day in a Dental Emergency Center.  It was a grueling experience that yielded unexpected insight (but that’s for a different post).  For now, here’s your “long awaited” post on Article 4, consider the (probably unnoticed) delay a last-ditch effort to help you embrace the “anticipation” of Advent.

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Article 4 of the Belgic Confession is little more than a list.

It’s a familiar list to many of us; a list memorized and forgotten and re-memorized (and often, probably, re-forgotten) by millions of us over the years.  I use this list every day and I’ll be the first to (rather sheepishly) admit that I still stumble on the Old Testament’s “back-40.”

What’s there to say about the list?

I don’t expect I can say anything particularly profound, but Article 4 does remind me something that I’m prone to forgetting: the Bible is not a book.

It’s a library.

A very special kind of library, sure, but a library nonetheless.

Like other libraries, the books in the Bible were written over the course of a couple of thousand years, from multiple cultures, and in several languages.  Some of them began as oral legends, others started out as letters on a page.  Some were dictated, others were scribbled out in private.  There are stories, dreams, metaphors, histories, genealogies, poems, and songs.  There are hopes and fears – love stories and wars.

There are a number of benefits to recognizing the Bible as a library instead of insisting on imagining it as a book, but to my mind, the most important is that, in general, it frees us from the need to harmonize apparent conflicts.  If passages seem to say different things, well, maybe they do, and that’s ok.

Maybe the Word of the Lord varies a bit from one millennium to the next… from one context to another…  from one language to different one.  (“Maybe” is a bit weak here.  I would argue that obviously that’s the case, although this position would have scandalized me 2 decades ago.)  This isn’t to suggest that the Bible is rife with inconsistencies; it simply recognizes that when normal people – albeit normal people inspired by the Holy Spirit – seek to express the divine Word in a particular context there will be inevitable limitations and those limitations become increasingly visible when observed outside of the original context. [Note: this is part of what I was talking about last week.]

In any case: library, not book.

That’s what the Big List helps me remember.

Grace and peace,
`tim

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One Response to The Big List

  1. Hey Tim! Thank you for these two posts. They have both been very helpful for me. I meant to comment last week to say I agreed very much with your sentiments that we can trace most Christian controversy down to a single question: what does the word “inspiration” mean? Man I have that has probably been the biggest struggle of my life. Giving up the doctrine of strict inerrancy that I grew up with has been the longest, hardest process of my lifetime. What I love about what you express here is how rooted in Reformed tradition your view of scripture is and how winsome and graceful your words are, yet brief and clear it is. I have a lot to learn from your example.

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