Jesus is the Word of God, Not the Bible

These thoughts follow on last week’s post about “Jesus and Scripture,” and the often ugly and desperate state of Christian rhetoric on social media this weekend.

Christians, we ought to stop appealing to “the Bible” as a flat, uniform record of a simple, consistent theology or a prepackaged morality. Being a collection of wildly diverse texts across many traditions, eras and languages, the Bible represents a series of inspired poems and arguments about what God is like. As Christians, we’re the ones who say that Jesus won the argument. He clarifies and corrects our idea of who God really is.

Protestantism, for all the good it has done the world, has erred by systematizing the Bible’s many visions of God into one giant, scary, contradictory loaf of generic divinity. God is loving, but His love is expressed as wrath. God is merciful, but He demands either moral perfection or sacrifice. God is forgiving, but His justice is violent. Jesus sorts it all out for us. God is not a king or a tyrant, but a loving Father. God demands mercy, not sacrifice. God doesn’t hate our enemies like we do, He loves them like we should.

Our job is not to “obey the Bible,” as if Jesus had come to endorse and fossilize every idea that was ever written about God. As we observed last week, Jesus enthusiastically endorsed the Jewish law (you know, the one none of us even tries to keep), but only according to his own radical and open-hearted interpretation. That is the error of conservative biblicism: it goes just far enough to get Jesus’ endorsement of the scriptures, then pulls out and redirects our attention back to their own self-interested authoritarian interpretations. Jesus doesn’t defer to the authority of scripture, he assumes authority over it, hijacks the whole thing, and reveals that it was always and only about empathy and love. Our job is to follow Jesus in his selfless understanding of God, neighbor, and world, and to trust that this is the way of salvation.

I trust in the Bible as an authentic witness to the traditions of our faith and – most important – to Jesus. But my belief and obedience are reserved for Jesus.  Or at least in my better moments I know they should be.