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Here is a great quote from Leslie Newbigin a friend passed on to me recently.

“…the confession of Jesus as the unique Son of God who by his incarnation, ministry, death and resurrection has acted decisively for the redemption of the world and for the renewal of the whole creation…provides the hermeneutical key with which I seek to understand the scriptures as a whole.

When we read, and meditate on, and immerse ourselves in the Scriptures, we become aware of the basic tensions within the Scriptures.

Place, for example, the book of Joshua alongside the Sermon on the Mount. Place the exclusivist writings of Ezra and Nehemiah alongside the inclusivist writings of Jonah and Ruth. Put Paul and James side by side on the doctrine of justification, or put Romans 13 and Revelation 13 side by side in search of a doctrine of the state. Plainly, these are simple examples of an immense internal critique which is going on throughout the whole of the Bible.

And that critique is part of the very life of the church, because a tradition remains living when it is constantly wrestling with questions of truth.

And the hermeneutical key to which I have referred—namely, the actual incarnation and ministry, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ—is the point at which this internal tension is historically actualized, which at its very heart is the tension between the holy wrath of God and the holy love of God, the ultimate tension which has its final manifestation and resolution in the atoning work of Jesus Christ, is the key by which we can understand the great internal tensions within the Scriptures.

Which means that when we read the Scriptures, we do not simply read individual passages by themselves and take them as they stand to be God’s Word for us, but that take the Scripture always in its canonical wholeness and read the whole of it within the perspective of its canonical wholeness and with the hermeneutical key of the ministry, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.” ~ Lesslie Newbigin, “Scripture at the Locus of Truth,” The Trinity Journal for Theology and Ministry 4.2 (2010): 43-44 (my emphasis)

Some of you will recognize in this quote overlap the main theme of my book Inspiration and Incarnation:

Jesus as God incarnate is a model for helping us come to grips with what the Bible is and how it should be handled.

I also enthusiastically resonate with Newbigin that there is an “immense internal critique which is going on in the Bible.” (I make quite a big deal out of it in The Sin of Certainty and The Bible Tells Me So.)

The Bible’s messiness—its diversity, tensions, and contradictions—is precisely that characteristic of Scripture that makes it so applicable to us. It is only by our following Scripture’s lead and wrestling with the tradition that the “tradition remains living.”

Wrestling. Striving. I keep coming back to how that is embedded in Israel’s very name (Genesis 32:28).

By allowing the Bible to be what it is rather than what we think it should (or must) be, we will better come to understand it and see what it has to offer us on our journey of faith in this life.

This blog was first posted in November 2016.

Pete Enns, Ph.D.

Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.