Wednesday, 13 May 2015

All Things Necessary For Salvation

‘Holy Scripture contains all things necessary for salvation.’

I came across this on a network of Christian bloggers as a required belief for anyone wanting to join the network. Being inclined to contrariness, I immediately had reservations.

It is Jesus who saves us, not the Bible. The Bible is essentially an intricately carved and cunningly decorated piece of wood, at risk of becoming an idol.

I do know what the clause means, really, and - as a pointer - agree with it: Mark's Gospel introduces us to Jesus, Ephesians 2 tells us about salvation:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
And John 10 links the two:
I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
This post's opening sentence comes from Article 6 of the Church of England's 39 Articles of Religion, their attempt to navigate a faithful path between the extremes of Roman Catholicism on the one side and hard-line Protestantism on the other.

The way I have addressed the meaning of this above begs the question, what about the rest of the Bible? Paul's second letter to Timothy is helpful: he tells us that all scripture is useful for Christian living. Strictly speaking he is only referring to Old Testament scriptures there, but it is not a big jump to extend it to the rest of the New Testament also.

Whilst hard-line Protestants tend to emphasise sola scriptura - only scripture, nothing else - the C of E goes for prima scriptura: scripture first, but the Spirit guides us in other ways also (including reason, tradition and experience).

Actually sola scriptura falls at the first hurdle: the original scriptures were written in a mixture of Hebrew, Aramaic and Koine Greek. Without dictionaries and other translation tools these are meaningless to the modern reader. Even with translation tools you end up with circular, meaningless or tradition-determined translations without other writings to compare them to. You also need tools to determine which of a range of different ancient texts is closest to the original (note that the ones used by the original translators of the King James version are late and significantly different from earlier, better texts - the KJV was great in its day, but now it is only useful as a museum piece).

My view, in summary, is that the Bible is a wonderful book, filled with all sorts of poetry, narrative, drama, melodrama, and a variety of other writing types, which points us to Jesus, to the Holy Spirit and to God the Father, and which is a wonderful guide to living in God's way, the way recommended in love as the best way for us to live most fully. Some of the Bible is crystal clear, like the need to turn to God through Jesus to find healing and new life; some of it is less so; and some of the Bible is downright obscure and difficult to understand. Just like God's creation really. To my mind that is part of the joy of both - there is always more to discover, always more to learn, and always more to experience.

God is good ... and so is his word.

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