2 Peter 1:18-21 is perhaps the most important Scripture in Scripture about Scripture. In it, St. Peter tells us the value of Scripture, the origin of Scripture, and the way to guard Scripture.
What we do together every morning in Daily Bread is utterly dependent upon what we believe about the Word of God. If, as some have suggested, 2 Peter is not inspired, then we are wasting our time in staking our lives upon what it says. If what we are reading and meditating upon together today is not actually the Word of God, we might derive some wisdom from it, but it could not compel us to live our lives by it.
But the Bible is the Word of God – all of it.
In the first place, St. Peter reminds us of the source of the Scriptures that we read, meditate on, and pray over: those who wrote the books of the Bible were holy men of God, not just any human authors, and they spoke and wrote as moved by the Holy Spirit. In the Scriptures, then, we see a picture of the Incarnation. Just as the Holy Spirit conceived Jesus in the human womb of the Virgin Mary, the Holy Spirit conceived the Word of God in the human womb of the men who wrote the Bible. Just as Jesus is fully human and fully divine, so is the Bible fully human and fully divine.
This holy Spirit who inspired holy men of God to write the Bible also inspired St. Paul to write 3 books telling us that we need the Church to rightly interpret the Bible. If you read through 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus with us, then you’ll remember that St. Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, commanded that presbyters and bishops be ordained in every city to guard the Holy Scriptures. Paul knew firsthand, as Peter seems to have, that false teachers would come and claim to have a new gospel and a new interpretation of the Bible.
But Peter warns us that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation (verse 20). It is not the task of lone ranger Christians to interpret the Bible on their own. In fact, in the early Church anyone who claimed his own authority, apart from the apostolic Church, and anyone who claimed to have a new interpretation was assumed to be a false teacher.
It’s true that each of us must search the Scriptures for ourselves, but this searching assumes a faithful Church that is guarding the Scriptures and guiding our interpretation. It was only in the life of the Church that the Scriptures were formed and written. Even the final form that the books of the Bible took was shaped by the public reading of the Scriptures in the context of the Church. It was only in the life of the Church that we received the Scriptures as we have them, canonized into the Bible we have today. It is not up to each individual to decide which books of the Bible are inspired, and it is not up to the individual to determine the interpretation of the Scriptures.
I believe in a Trinity because that is the Church’s interpretation, not Fr. Charles’. Even though it was my parents who probably first taught me this doctrine, where did they get it from, and where did their teachers get it from? From the Church. Scripture was written in the life of the Church, canonized in the life of the Church, and therefore must be interpreted in the life of the Church.
Individuals do have a role in interpretation, but it is a secondary one. I, as a presbyter, do not have the authority to make up doctrine or come up with new interpretations. But I do have the Christian liberty to faithfully apply the rightly interpreted Scriptures in my life and the lives of those for whom God has given me a shepherding role. I can even play and speculate about the perichoresis of the fruits of the Spirit, as long as my applications and speculations are submitted to the larger teaching of the Church. Without this, none of you would have any guarantee that I wasn’t teaching error. It would be my word against yours: not a very good basis for deciding doctrine.
But all of this is the more technical stuff. Having accepted the divine origin of the Scriptures, as written, canonized, and interpreted in the life of the whole Church, we can now put the Scriptures to use in our lives.
My desire for each of you is that you so treasure the Word of God and faithfully apply it to your life that is becomes for you a “light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your heart” (verse 19). This is the goal of hearing and living by Scripture. The Bible is the very Word of God in your life and in the life of a dark and dying world. It is the light that shines in the dark places of our lives and of this world, and we must take every opportunity to be so illuminated by the Holy Spirit by God’s Holy Word that we then illuminate others.
The Bible, when we read it faithfully, is the true Illuminated Manuscript. Every day we are to let it shine in the dark places of our individual and collective lives, and that is my desire for Daily Bread and what keeps me writing. Every day when I read and meditate on the lesson for the day, if I receive it with a humble and faithful heart, I experience the Holy Spirit illuminating the dark places in my heart. What an honor and a delight to hear the Holy Spirit singing to Himself through me, as He who first illuminated the holy writers of the Scriptures to write God’s Word now illuminates me.
I hope that all of you have also experienced not only the shining of God’s Word into the dark places of your life but also the dawning of the day. The real goal is not only to illuminate your heart and life but also to sanctify them again so that they can be a fit vessel for the Morning Star, who is to rise in your heart anew each morning. In this way, the Word of God as inscripturated (the Bible) leads you to the Word of God incarnated (Jesus Christ).
To me, there are few things more thrilling in life than to meditate upon the Scriptures, to feel the Holy Spirit penetrating me by them, to see Satan and the Old Man flee before the Light, and to watch the Morning Star rise and shine within me and others.
It is not only God who can tell if you’ve been so illuminated by His Word: the world is watching and waiting. If you have so encountered Jesus Christ through His Word, then you will be like Moses coming down from Mt.Sinai: your whole life will be so illuminated that you will not be able to hide it even if you tried.
Prayer: Blessed Lord, who has caused all Holy Scripture to be written for our learning, grant that I may so hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them that by them Your light shines in the dark places of my life and the Morning Star of Christ my Lord may rise within me, for Your glory and for the salvation of the world. Amen.
Point for Meditation:
Consider your whole approach to Scripture. Some things you may want to examine are the following questions.
Do I fully believe they are the inspired Word of God?
Am I willing to humbly submit to the teaching of the larger Church? Am I teachable?
How well do I listen to the Word as it is read, taught, and preached at my local church?
Have I been spending adequate time to allow for God to illuminate me through His Word?
Am I allowing God’s Word to form, reform, and transform me – and not just inform me?
Resolution: I resolve to heed the Bible as the light that shines in dark places. If I have been proud in my own interpretation of the Scriptures, I resolve to more humbly accept the teachings of the larger Church.
© 2011 Fr. Charles Erlandson
CC Image courtesy of Librarian by Tim Green aka atoach on Flickr
Category: Give Us This Day