I have made it my goal to write short posts reflecting on my devotional reading every day. These posts are composed off the cuff, in 30 minutes or less. The following is one such post. Before writing this post, I read: Psalm 70, Proverbs 3, and 2 Corinthians 7–9.
One of the more astonishing doctrines we Christians advance is the idea that documents written to a group of people almost wholly other than us millennia ago are relevant to our own lives today. Today, for example, I read from 2 Corinthians (mid first century A.D.), Proverbs (written early in the 10th century B.C. and mostly likely compiled into its final form sometime around the 6th century B.C.), and Psalms (similar to Proverbs, perhaps in this particular case with a slightly earlier date of composition and later date of completion). In other words, I am reading a words penned anywhere from about 3,000 to about 2,000 years ago.
About twenty years separate me from my father, and he from his. A “generation” is something like twenty to twenty-five years. Call it twenty-five for good measure. Then it has been between 80 and 120 human lives since these books were written. That distance in time is almost unfathomable.1 And yet we have the audacity to say the Paul’s letters, Solomon’s proverbs, and David’s poetry have something to say to us today. More than that, we claim that God expressly intended that we read these books as his revelation of himself to us today. Not, to be sure, in the sense that we act as if 2 Corinthians is a letter addressed to us (though I have heard this articulation bandied around in simplistic fashion, usually in the context of trying to motivate people into reading their Bibles) but in the sense that God’s work in those people’s lives at that time was recorded in such a way as to be a comprehensible revelation of the character and desires of the living God whom we serve today.
We are not without warrant in making this claim. Those intervening centuries have seen the church flourish and grow under the guidance of the Scriptures, and never more so than when listening most carefully to the ways God has revealed himself in the Scriptures themselves. New light is always shining forth into the church from these ancient pages, because the Spirit of God is always at work using these old words to confront new people.
There are two realities here: a lesser and a greater one. The lesser is that people have not changed. Many of the particulars of our circumstances have, of course. I read these words from a tablet this morning, and I am typing on a laptop—a pair of devices that certainly would have astounded anyone in the original audiences. Modernity is extraordinarily different from all that preceded it many ways. But these are mere externals; the human heart is the same as it has ever been. We are still troubled, broken, rebels against the King of the universe, desperately in need of salvation from both the guilt and the power of sin in our lives and of reconciliation with our maker and with each other.
The greater reality is that God has not changed, and it is the Holy Spirit that makes these vintage texts work life among us. The same God who put his breath in man put his breath in these texts2 He breathes through them into the life of his people today, so that what was said then means something now. This is miraculous on many levels: that the words penned then were able to be profitable for so long, that they were so well preserved, and that we are enabled to hear them. The work of the Spirit is often reduced to his visibly and obviously miraculous doings—healings, tongues, etc.—but I think this is one of the greatest works done at the Spirit’s hand. This reality leads us to worship, as it should, and as it is meant to.
If we write out all the greats in the chain back to my ancestors who lived when these words were being written, the shorter version comes to this: roughly my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents were walking around then.↩
We translate from the Greek theopneustos to “inspired” because the Authorized Version did—but “God-breathed” would be equally accurate. That is exactly what “inspired by God” meant when King James was alive: to be “inspired” is simply to be breathed into, from Latin in- (‘in/into’) + spirare (‘breathe’).↩