Friday 6 September 2013

The Gestalt or Essence of the Bible


The Bible cannot legitimately be regarded as a set of inter-linked laws or regulations - but that is how many people read it. The implicit ideal is that a good Biblical Christian should know the whole Bible, sentence by sentence, and fully cross-referenced.

This is double nonsense - in the first place as requiring a cognitive capacity, time and resources grossly beyond the mass of humanity; but also because it is the wrong way to understand the Bible.

The Bible needs to be understood as a whole - that is, perhaps as a Gestalt (the sum being greater than its parts) or more helpfully as having an Essence - more helpfully because 'greater than the sum of its parts' still carries implications that all the parts must first be separately comprehended.


If the Bible is regarded as having an Essence, this does not mean that the Essence can be defined: it cannot be defined.

What I mean is that the Christian relationship to the Bible should be one of Love - not of comprehension - the Bible should be loved in the same kind of way we love a person: Father, Mother, Brother, Sister, Son, Daughter, Husband, Wife or dear Friend.


What do we Love about a person? We love their Essence - that is to say, we do not assemble our love of a person from the individual loves of each of their parts separately considered - but we love that person, love their soul.

Even when loving their Essence, we may not love their parts - we may not love their habits, the way they sniff loudly or snore; we may not love their diseases, their cancers; we do not love their sins - but we do love them.

We do not love their perfection-in-every-detail - nor do we comprehend them - 'other people' are an insoluble mystery.

But we love them in their essential being.


That should be a Christian's attitude to the Bible, I think. He should love its Essence.

In this sense the Bible is something with which we seek a relationship - and a relationship is something that can be mentally grasped whole and in a moment.

We are not required to understanding each specific verse considered separately - how could we possibly do this anyway?

Just as our love for a person is not affected by imperfections of incomprehension, love of the Bible should not be affected by an inability to make sense of or believe each bit of the Bible when it has been chopped up and presented for analysis.


(...That would be somewhat like taking a camera and photographing each part of a wife's body at different levels of magnification down to the microscopic, and requiring that the husband not only recognize every photograph, but explain every detail of all of these pictures, and the inter-relationship of all of these pictures - and also regard every photograph as perfection, and that he must 'love' each and every one of them!)


Fortunately that kind of thing is neither required, nor is it helpful.

I think we should read the Bible in the same spirit as we want to spend time with our loved ones. Of course we want to 'get to know them' better - but that isn't really the point, is it?

We want to spend time with them because we love them.



The Crow said...

One of the problems I had with the Pentecostal Church was their insistence that The Bible was 'The Literal Word Of God' (and here is what God means...).

I always saw it as an overly long, overly complex, overly overdone series of metaphors for what was what.
A sort-of religious cross between the tabloid news and a self-help treatise.

Genesis is great stuff, while Revelations is uncannily prophetic. Everything in between is - well - in-between.

But yes: one is ill-advised to try to define and interpret any specific bits, but rather see the whole thing as a suggestion of how-it-is.

Wurmbrand said...

Your post doesn't zero in on what the essence of the Bible may be, but we have our Lord's own words for that; the Scriptures (by which He meant the Old Testament, but obviously this is true of the New as well) are about Himself, the Savior (St. Luke, Ch. 24. The Scriptures close, of course, with His revelation to St. John and the pronouncement of blessings upon those who read it and curses upon any who add to it.

Bruce Charlton said...

@W - Revelation Chapter 22 -
12 And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.
13 I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.
14 Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.
15 For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.
16 I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star.
17 And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.
18 For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:
19 and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.
20 He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly.

Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.


I guess you mean these words: "For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book"

- which I take it to mean the words of the prophecy of this book, that is the Book of Revelation/ Apocalypse.

In context, the instruction does not seem to refer to the book of the Bible as a whole - but perhaps you are suggesting it does?

ajb said...

Isn't asking what is the essence of the Bible the same thing as asking what is the essence of the Christian God?

Bruce Charlton said...

@ajb - Yes.