Steve Chalke wants to start a global discussion about the Bible – see the video here or the document here. You may remember, he made his views on same-sex marriage clear last year, and I commented then that I didn’t agree with his understanding of Scripture. He’s gone one step further this time, but I don’t want to waste time discussing it here when others have already written an excellent response. The gist of it is basically that what Steve Chalke is proposing ultimately undermines confidence in the Bible, the opposite of what he was intending!
Over the past few weeks I’ve been studying the book of Hebrews as part of my college course. Hebrews is a difficult book (I remember reading it as a student and being baffled by much of it!), but it has some important things to say to us regarding how we understand Scripture. Hebrews is interesting because it’s preaching a sermon about Christ, but it uses exclusively Old Testament texts to talk about Christ (it hardly refers to his earthly ministry at all). As such it teaches us a lot about what it means to understand the Old Testament.
As we all know the best place to start is the beginning – this is how Hebrews kicks off:
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.
So. God spoke to “our fathers”, i.e. the Jewish people, through the prophets – but recently he has spoken to us by “his Son”. What’s interesting here is that both the prophets and Jesus are counted as “God speaking”. As we will see, it’s not the case that Jesus is somehow a ‘superior’ revelation to the prophets per se, more that the Old Testament speaks of and points forward to Christ.
Hebrews 1 continues in verse 5:
For to which of the angels did God ever say,
“You are my Son,
today I have begotten you”?
The quote there is from Psalm 2. What is interesting is that the writer to the Hebrews claims it is God himself speaking. He then goes on to quote 2 Samuel, Deuteronomy, Isaiah and some more of the Psalms. In all of these – God speaks. More than that, God speaks definitively and authoritatively about Christ.
Let’s move on to Hebrews 2:12:
That is why he [Jesus] is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying,
“I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.”
Do you see the difference there? This time Jesus is the one who’s speaking in the words of Psalm 22. And it’s not just past tense “said”, it is “saying” – present tense. Scripture speaks to us today, here and now. But – there’s more! Hebrews 3:7 says “Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says…” and then quotes from Psalm 95.
Here in Hebrews we have the Triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – communicating to us in the Old Testament scriptures. Note – communicating. The Old Testament speaks to us, it it’s God’s word to us, as much as it was God’s word to the Jews. When understood rightly, all Scripture speaks of Christ.
Let’s move on to Hebrews 4:7. Here we read that God speaks “through David so long afterwards, in the words already quoted…” Again, God speaks, but God speaks “through” the medium of an intermediary, in this case David. Steve Chalke, and others like him, like to focus on the human aspect of Scripture: Scripture was written by man. But they don’t focus on the God speaking part of Scripture.
There’s much more you could say, but let’s finish by looking at Hebrews 4:11-13:
Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
Here, the recipients are exhorted to “strive to enter that rest” (which the writer has just been talking about). The reason for that given is “the word of God is living and active”. The word of God, which as the writer has demonstrated refers to the Scriptures, is “living and active”. The Scriptures are God’s word. They speak to us, as they spoke to the recipients of this letter.
We are not at liberty to ignore them, or say they were simply “of their time”. When we read the Bible, the infinite God speaks to us. The question is not whether he speaks or not – the question is whether we are listening.