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The Divine Authorship of Scripture

“Now because the literal sense is that which the author intends, and the author of holy Scripture is God who comprehends everything all at once in his understanding, it comes not amiss, as St Augustine observes, if many meanings are present even in the literal sense of one passage of Scripture” (Summa theologiæ 1.1.10).

For the last few years, I have been thinking about this remarkably compact statement, by St. Thomas Aquinas. Seven words, in particular, grab me — “the author of Holy Scripture is God.” Why have these words commandeered my attention? Because I think they are key to figuring out why so many have so little confidence in Scripture. Without trust in Scripture, and God as its author, it’s very difficult to experience the goodness of God and great faithfulness to his promises.

A few years ago, I published a book on the speeches in the Acts of the Apostles. I wrote about their influence on metaphysics and morals. One of the things that surprised me the most in writing was how indifferent even the most theologically sympathetic Acts scholars were to the simple truth that Acts bears an immediate relationship to God. There is consensus about Acts’ theocentrism — at least among the scholars whose voices I found most edifying — but even then, language like “Luke’s articulation” of this and that is prominent. To be sure, Luke writes about God, and his narrative communicates something of God’s character and purposes, but in the end, it is Luke’s authorial agency that dominates discussion. In the midst of this, I ask myself: Where is God? My answer is that Luke’s text is about God because God authors Luke’s text.

Habitual patterns of speech matter. My take is that so many are used to speaking about Scripture in naturalistic ways that the notion of God as Scripture’s author is eclipsed. God does not just speak through Scripture — Old and New Testaments. Rather, God authors them. Such a notion scares us, I suspect, because we hear it as dispensing with and as disparaging the variety of voices we encounter in the canon. We might worry that if we were to embrace Thomas’s judgement, we evacuate Luke-Acts as having any relationship to the man Luke.

This is unfortunate. A robust confidence in Scripture as authored by God encourages deep conviction regarding the truth of its message as having much — indeed everything — to do with God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Naturalized ways of speaking about Scripture give rise, moreover, to indifference to Scripture among church leaders and congregants. Scripture has to do more with human thought about God. Scripture represents “opinions” about things that we sift through in order to discover what works for us. Insofar as we follow this path, we remain imprisoned within worlds of our own making, unable to hear the terrifying good scriptural news of God.

God authors Scripture in the most extraordinary way. He blesses us with the Old Testament, intending us to turn toward him there as Lord of Israel. In the New Testament, he fulfills what he promises to his beloved covenant people, grafting even Gentiles into what Paul calls in Galatians 6:16 “the Israel of God.”

If such is the case, I wonder whether Barth’s notion about hearing “the Word within the words” goes far enough. There’s something quietly confident and disarmingly bold about Thomas’s statement. To be sure, Thomas makes a very subtle discussion of the relationship between the literal and (threefold) spiritual sense of Scripture. Scripture as an effect of God thus resembles profoundly the One who brings it into being. The order, symmetry, truth, and beauty of Scripture express God as the One who is order, symmetry, truth, and beauty.

This insight may serve to dampen many congregations’ reflexive suspicion about Scripture’s divine authorship and authority. God is so good that God authors a text containing “everything necessary for faith” (Summa theologiæ 1.1.10). Everything. What is necessary for faith, above all, is God. God authors Scripture so as to lovingly draw us to him, in and through his most blessed Son and Spirit. Let us have the courage to move beyond ways of speaking about Scripture that leave no room for God. Even offering a “reading” of a text sounds far too domesticated.

Let us not so much seek to read but hear Scripture as authored by God and conveying everything necessary for faith and thus for falling in love with him. Over and against what one otherwise theologically sympathetic Acts scholar writes — “Luke embeds theology in speeches” (S. Walton, Reading Acts Theologically, p. 10) — it’s better to say that Luke’s speeches are theology, divine discourse. This is because God authors them, and everything that comes from God bears likeness to him, most especially sacred Scripture.

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