Due to their opponents embracing a faulty anthropology, Evangelicals have often been accused of having a Docetic view of Scritpure. “Come now! Scripture is a human book,” their opponents say “and that necessitates error—not only because humans are sinful (a minor point) but because humans are finite and necessarily make mistakes!”
An obvious fallacious conflation of categories: why conflate bad breath and miscalculations with affirming erroneous beliefs—indeed, even morally wrong beliefs (which they may use examples as slavery, monarchism or patriarchies)?
Yet, this question about the ontology of a human as it relates to a human product cannot be so easily brushed away when one approaches the letter to the Hebrews. The author looks beyond the human author to establish all his arguments—and this refutes the Nestorian(1), or even Kenotic Arian(2), view of Scripture.
I will establish the Author’s reasoning by briefly sketching his idea of Scripture in three major points: Point 1: God speaking through others; Point 2: God speaking in Scriptures; and Point 3: God speaking in Time.
At this juncture, some may be tempted to insert new meanings to my text. God speaking through others winds up meaning the Spirit of God speaking through a believer; God speaking through Scriptures becomes God sometimes speaking through a small voice as we read certain passages; and God speaking in Time might be tied to some sort of continuationism where God continues to speak in the present via the miraculous.
Even if those things were true, they serve no function here: it is better to allow us, myself and the author to the Hebrews, to speak and carefully establish the points that underlie both arguments.
As to the first point, the author clearly sees God speaking perfectly through other individuals—but these individuals are all writing in Scripture. This might be ignored if all we had was the writer’s introductory statement:
God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, (Heb 1:1 // NASB95)
“Well” says one “he means the revelation that occurs every now and then through prophecies” but that is not the writer’s point. For when we arrive at certain places we see God explicitly speaking through persons.
He again fixes a certain day, “Today,” saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before, “Today if you hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts.”(Heb 4:7 // NASB95 cf. Ps 95:7)
As if that weren’t enough he goes and quotes the narrator of the book of Genesis and ascribes the text to God speaking:
For He has said somewhere concerning the seventh day: “And God rested on the seventh day from all His works”; (Heb 4:4 // NASB95 cf. Gen 2:2)
This act of God speaking through others isn’t something that the writer is saying happens Out There Somewhere In The World but rather it is happening explicitly in the written texts, even in the very inane passages which are mere narration.
This tells us that the author to the Hebrews has a view of Scripture in which God’s speaking pervades those who are writing the text, from narration to song—not just explicit “God said” quotes. Now this isn’t to imply the original writers are in a trance: there is no mention about the mode which God employed to ensure that the writers speak His words—that’s not the author’s concern. But God explicitly and perfectly speaks through others as they record Scripture.
Which leads us to our second point: the author notices God speaking in Scripture.
Now, this might appear as if I’m merely repeating the first point but there is a real difference. The author has no problem differentiating between God the Father speaking in this text or the Son of God speaking in that text or even the Holy Spirit speaking in this other text.
So we’ll see the writer note the Holy Spirit speaking:
Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, “Today if you hear His voice, (Heb 3:7 // NASB95)
The Son of God speaking:
Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, “Sacrifice and offering You have not desired, But a body You have prepared for Me; (Heb 10:5 // NASB95)
And God the Father speaking:
But to which of the angels has He ever said, “Sit at My right hand, Until I make Your enemies A footstool for Your feet”? (Heb 1:13 // NASB95)
And these passages are not unique proof-texts that pop in here or there in the letter to the Hebrews. The writer often notes in Scripture that God speaks (Heb 1:6,8; 4:3;10:30;12:25), the Son speaks (Heb 2:11-12; 10:9) and the Spirit speaks (Heb 9:8; 10:15).
This tells us that the Author sees God speaking so perfectly through others (first point) and that he can distinguish which person of the Godhead is speaking and to whom.
Once again, this says nothing of the how of it all. God speaking via Prophets and then the Son (Heb 1:2) does not in any way necessitate a human-puppet, empty of volition, who spews out the words of whichever member of the Godhead wants an instrument to speak through. God, in all three persons, has no problem speaking clearly through Others and These Others have been recorded in Scripture so as to allow one to hear what they said.
Or are saying: which brings us to the third point regarding tense or The When of it all. It can easily be argued that these bits are God speaking in the past (Heb 1:1) and they might consist of times when God uttered words to bring things about in the past:
By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible. (Heb 11:3 // NASB95)
It can even be said that the writer has no problem recording when God is speaking of the future—such as when the Son again comes into the world (Heb 1:6) or better:
And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.” (Heb 12:26 // NASB95)
But it is not merely that God spoke in the past and-here’s-the-proof: it is that God spoke in the past Here at Point A then he spoke in the past here at point B which is after Point A, and this has been left open to show that he is speaking right now to us in Point C.
In other words, the recorded Scriptures are God speaking but not only speaking in some far removed distant past but speaking right now to the present readers.
He again fixes a certain day, “Today,” saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before, “Today if you hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts.” (Heb 4:7 // NASB95)
See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven. (Heb 12:25 // NASB95)
This should shake the Kenotic Arian view of Scripture to the core. God is right now speaking perfectly from heaven through humans who recorded Scripture in the past so that it can address people who are presently reading.
This isn’t even some weak idea about the reader getting inspired by words. Rather, this is God’s utterances which reverberate from the throne room of heaven and specifically through the vehicle of the human-written text to address us in the now.
For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Heb 4:12 // NASB95)
This is the power that is being ascribed to God’s word—and here some folk might like to quibble about semantics (ie: The Word of God refers to God’s redemptive message; not to the Bible) without really addressing all the points that came before—in a pervasive sense.
And others might want to quibble about the how of it all: the text is silent on that issue. But it assumes some very shaking things about God’s utterances that leaves the operation open but casts no doubt on the power.
If God’s utterances can bring into nothing the very cosmos (Heb 11:3); and result in a shaking by which all will be shaken off save God’s unshakeable kingdom (Heb 12:26); and if he can easily speak through finite creatures to bring about his will in the past and the future then how easily can he speak from heaven to affect those who read right now…and then another right now that follows that past right now? As God says elsewhere:
So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.(Is 55:11 // NASB95 )
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. (Ro 10:17 // NASB95 )
This is an eye-opening view of how the author to the Hebrews approaches his argument: it is not merely him making these points, it is God who has been speaking—even now—and the author is merely putting it together in his short word of exhortation (Heb 12:5).
Indeed, this view should give Evangelicals no pause as they stand on their high and proper view of Scripture. This isn’t some strange Docetism, or even puppeteering: this is the Creator God speaking perfectly through Humans so that change may be affected right now.
Let the Non-Evangelical Liberals speak on, leading their Kenotic Arian charge against a high view of Scripture—it collapses under the weight of the Word of God spoken inerrantly from heaven, right now, through human authors of the text we call The Scriptures. Let them, in their desire to capitulate to their own reason over the Creator’s mandates, call this view of God’s Utterances wrong, harmful or dangerous. If the very fiber of a human is laid bare by this Speaking, it is dangerous indeed but not in the way they would like.
As God says:
Let God be true, and every man a liar.
(1) A Nestorian view of Scripture would take the Scripture to be a completely human book that is adopted by the community and thereby becomes part of their divine narrative. It is a completely human work that unites with the divine.
(2) Kenotic Arianism is further expanded on by Char Moore, but such a view of Scripture would suggest that as God took the Scriptures, he first completely emptied himself from the will of the Human authors so as to leave them doing the work on their own (thus accommodating to their weaknesses and foibles). But in so doing, the Scriptures are not a product of God’s work at all: he merely influences the process by occasionally speaking.