Final Vocabulary: Scripture

Sexagesima
Luke 8:4-15
February 4, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

In the name of + Jesus.

Final vocabulary is the term that is given to the words and language that are most foundational to how we view the world. They are the words that, when you think about them, are hard to define in simpler terms; you simply know what the words mean. They are the words that you take for granted in the way you approach the world. Different people have different final vocabularies, and different communities also.

In the Church, we have our own final vocabulary, and were are on the second week of focus on themes for three of these vocabulary words. Since they are so fundamental to how we understand the world around us, including God who reveals Himself to us, it’s important to have a grasp of what these words mean. And since it’s hard to define final vocabulary in simpler terms, we have to expand the words, rather than break them down.

Today’s final vocabulary is Scripture. What is Scripture? What is the Bible? What is the Word of God? How would you answer that question to someone who has no clue what this Bible is that Christians think is so important? It’s not as easy as you might think. We can think of the Word of God in three ways, and Holy Scripture is what gets us started.

Holy Scripture Is the Written Word of God, Which is the Standard for the Preached Word of God, Which Communicates the Word of God Incarnate

I.

            First some definitions. The word “Bible” comes from the Greek word βίβλος. It literally means “book,” although books as we know them, with leaves of pages bound in between two covers were not around when the Bible was written (they came about in the 4th century A.D.). Originally, the Bible was not a book, but a collection of scrolls, as we hear when Jesus goes to the synagogue and is given the scroll of the prophet Isaiah to read in Luke 4. Regardless of the kind of media, the word “Bible” means a collection of writings on a common subject. The Holy Bible is a collection of writings of God’s spokesmen from ancient times until the early Church that record the story of Jesus.

The word “Scripture” is somewhat synonymous, but has a slightly different nuance. Scripture comes from the Greek Word γραφὴ, from which we get all of our words with “graph” in them. It means something written. In religious usage, it always has a connotation of a religious writing. In the New Testament it is always used in this case, and most often refers to the writings of the Old Testament. It can be used in the singular, “Scripture,” to refer to the whole of the writings, or to individual passages. It can also be used in the plural, “the Scriptures,” to refer to the whole of the writings. Very soon after the New Testament began to be written, the writings of the Apostles also were considered Scripture (see 2 Peter 3:16, where Paul’s writings are called “Scripture”).

Then there is the term, “the Word of God.” The Bible uses this in a number of ways, including in today’s parable. Jesus explains the symbolism of the parable for us, and the main point of comparison is, ‘The seed is the Word of God.’ However, in this case, it doesn’t make sense that the parable of the sower is to tell us to start throwing Bibles around. Furthermore, Jesus explicitly says that four ways in which the seed is received symbolizes ways that the Word is heard. This is confirmed just a few verses following today’s Gospel reading when Jesus tells His hearers to take care how they hear. So, while the Bible is certainly the written Word of God, there is also something more to the Word of God to make sense of this parable.

II.

            There is a story that St. Augustine once encountered St. Ambrose with a text, reading silently. He was taken aback. Not that no one had ever read to themselves before, but that in antiquity, reading was almost always audible reading. Words were put on paper or parchment to be read aloud. A written word implied that it should also be a spoken work. And so the term, “the Word of God,” can also mean the proclamation of God’s Word. But how does this relate to the Bible as the Word of God? Holy Scripture is the standard for the preached Word of God.

This is what our Lutheran Confessions state about the place of the Holy Scripture in the life of the Church. First, ‹we receive and embrace with our whole heart› are the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the pure, clear fountain of Israel. They are the only true standard or norm by which all teachers and doctrines are to be judged. (Formula of Concord: The Comprehensive Summary, Foundation, Rule, and Norm, 3).

So the Bible functions in two ways as the written Word of God in relation to the preached Word of God. First, it is the sole source of all doctrine. This means that everything we must know about God and His plan of salvation comes from the Bible. While there is a bit of knowledge of God we can derive from nature, it is vague and often misleading and will never tell us the specific teaching of Jesus Christ. The words written down in the various scrolls and compiled into the book that we call the Bible were written to be a fountain of knowledge about God. Not knowledge in an academic sense, but in the sense of familiarity. We are brought into a favorable relationship with God by what the Bible reveals about God.

Second, the written Word of God functions as a standard, measure, or rule for teaching. Not only should all Church teaching originate in the Bible, but the Bible also regulates all teaching in the Church. Think of it less as a ruler and more like a fountain (as the Confessions say). At the middle is the source, the spring that gushes forth with the good stuff, but as the contents of Scripture are proclaimed, the pool fills and sets the boundary for the fountain. So every teaching in the Church is measured by the Bible and its source is the Bible.

III.

            The parable, however, is meant to set a before us the purpose of both the written and preached Word of God. There is an irony that as the sower sows his seed, 75% of it fails to mature and produce fruit. Only the fourth and last soil condition bears fruit. These, Jesus explains, are they who, hearing the Word, hold it fast in a noble and good heart, and bear fruit in patience (v 15). Well, even when Jesus makes clear what He’s saying, it’s still hard to understand what He’s getting at. What He means by this is that there is another Word of God that we have not yet accounted for. Holy Scripture and its preaching are to communicate the Word of God incarnate.

So here’s how that works. Jesus uses two words to describe the kind of heart that receives His preached Word with the result of patiently borne fruit. Both of them are often translated as “good.” Kalos and agathos. The first one is used, for instance, when Jesus identifies Himself as the Good Shepherd—the kalos Shepherd. It’s good in the sense of beautiful or noble, one who would lay down His life for the sheep. Agathos, on the other hand, is a more general sense of good; it’s used to describe the good gifts from God, the good tree that bears good fruit, and a good, upstanding citizen. But together, these two goods refer to an idea of kalokagathia, a quality that ancient philosophers said was the product of training in righteousness. Now, in a philosophical sense, this meant philosophical training, becoming wise, and making yourself a better person. But when Jesus teaches righteousness, it’s His own righteousness.

John’s Gospel begins with an account of the eternal relationship of the Father and the Son. He calls the Son of God the Word of God; as words are expressions of your inner being, so the Son of God is the expression of God. And this Word becomes flesh, John reports. So the written Word of God and the preached Word of God are inseparable from the personal, incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ. The soils that fail to bear fruit all symbolize people who hear the Word of God preached or who read the Bible and find everything but Jesus. They find instructions, morality, secret knowledge, chicken soup for the soul, or whatever.

But only when you hear Jesus, the Word of God who became flesh to suffer and die, who is your righteousness, only then do you receive the noble and good heart, the kalokagathia, because then the righteousness of Christ becomes your own. And that’s when fruit is borne.

So Jesus is the purpose of the written Word of God and its proclamation. The Bible is the source of every teaching about Jesus and His righteousness. It is the standard for how this teaching is proclaimed. Scripture. Bible. Word of God. It’s part of our final vocabulary in the Church. The Bible is given to be proclaimed so that we would know God in Jesus Christ, and so become righteous.

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA