Scripture as Witness to the Word of God

Scripture as Witness to the Word of God
Brian Zahnd

To begin with a few axiomatic thoughts on Christ and the Bible…

The Bible is the word of God that bears witness to the Word of God — Jesus Christ.

The Logos-Word became flesh — not a book.

Jesus is God. The Bible is not.

The Bible did not create the Heavens and Earth — the Word (Christ) did.

We worship Jesus; we do not worship the Bible.

The Bible is not a member of the Trinity.

The Bible is not God. Jesus is God.

The Bible is not perfect. (There are parts of it we now regard as obsolete; e.g. Levitical codes.)

Christ is the perfection of God as a human being.

What the Bible does infallibly is point us to Jesus Christ.

There is one mediator between God and man…and it’s not the Bible.

The Bible is the inspired witness to the true Word of God who is Jesus Christ.

Now consider this…

The first Sunday after Christmas the Gospel reading was John 1:1-18. As I heard the Gospel read it occurred to me that the role John the Baptist played as the divinely sent witness to the Light is precisely how we should view Scripture in relation to Christ. Allow me to reproduce the reading, but I will substitute John the Baptist with Holy Scripture.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. There was a revelation sent from God, whose name was Scripture. Scripture came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through it. It was not itself the light, but came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (Scripture testified to him and cried out, “This is he of whom I said, ‘he who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.'”) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The Torah indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

The divine mission of John the Baptist was to point us to the true Light — Jesus Christ.
This is how we should understand the role of Scripture. Jesus says as much in John 5:39-40…

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; but it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

The supreme value of the treasure that is Holy Scripture is that it is the divine witness to the Word of God who is Christ.

If you can’t see the distinction between Jesus and the Bible, you are very confused indeed! And not in a trivial manner either. Biblicism is a rival faith to Christianity. Oh, believe me, I have a high view of Scripture…but Jesus is Lord! It is Christ who rules the nations…not the Bible. Can I give an example of how this distinction might matter? Consider that the Bible does not give a clear denunciation of slavery, but the living and reigning Christ surely does!

(To see how conservative Biblicists in antebellum America used the Bible to justify slavery, and how many conservative Christians in the North were hesitant to support abolition because they felt it undermined the authority of the Bible, I highly recommend Mark Noll’s The Civil War as a Theological Crisis.)

Biblicism can be a clever way of avoiding the rule of Christ in order to maintain the status quo.

It is the living Word to whom we must submit our lives. Consider the familiar passage of Hebrew 4:12-13…

Indeed, the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one with whom we must render account.

Clearly the writer is speaking of Christ, not the Bible.

The reason I love the Bible so much (and study it everyday!) is that it is the inspired witness to Christ. But if the Bible becomes an end in itself and does not direct us to Christ…what is the point?

The Church must always be in conversation with Scripture, but to the end that we might submit to the rule of the living Christ.

I’ll leave you with an example from John Dominic Crossan on how we must learn to read Scripture through the lens of Christ. And it is no casual example either, for it is with the question of violence that Biblicism clearly runs into a dead end. Shall we use the book of Joshua to countermand Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount? I see it done all the time.

(For those who are curious about such things [or would seek to use it against me], I don’t agree with everything that John Dominic Crossan says. But I do love his book, God and Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now.)

Here’s Crossan from God and Empire, pp. 94-95…


“The ambiguity of divine power suffuses the Christian Bible in both its Testaments and therefore presses this question for us Christians: how do we reconcile the ambiguity of our Bible’s violent and/or nonviolent God? My proposal is that the Christian Bible presents the radicality of a just and nonviolent God repeatedly and relentlessly confronting the normalcy of an unjust and violent civilization. Again and again throughout the biblical tradition, God’s radical vision for nonviolent justice is offered, and again and again we manage to mute it back into the normalcy of violent injustice.

The Christian Bible records the ongoing struggle between the normalcy of civilization’s program of peace through victory and the radicality of God’s alternative program of peace through justice. But that struggle is depicted inside the Bible itself. That is its integrity and its authority. If the Bible were only about peace through victory, we would not need it. If it were only about peace through justice, we would not believe it.

The Christian Bible forces us to witness the struggle of these two transcendental visions within its own pages and to ask ourselves as Christians how we decide between them. My answer is that we are bound to whichever of these visions was incarnated by and in the historical Jesus. It is not the violent but the nonviolent God who is revealed to Christian faith in Jesus of Nazareth and announced to Christian faith by Paul of Tarsus.

I conclude with an image…

christsinaiAs you pass from outer to inner narthex of Istanbul’s Church of St. Savior, the doorway is crowned with a magnificent mosaic of Christ Pantokrator. As in all such Eastern icons of Christ, his right hand is raised in an authoritative teaching gesture, with his fingers separated into a twosome and a threesome to commend Christian faith in the two natures of Christ and the three persons of the Trinity. As usual, he holds a book in his left hand. But he is not reading the book — it is not even open, but securely closed and tightly clasped. Christ does not read the Bible. He is the norm of the Bible. That is how we Christians decide between a violent and nonviolent God in the Bible. The person, not the book, and the life, not the text, are decisive and constitutive for us.”


Wow! That is a brilliant and important observation from John Dominic Crossan.

A low view of Scripture? Far from it! Scripture is penultimate! But it is Christ who is supreme.

These thoughts occurred to me as I listened to Holy Scripture read in worship on the first Sunday after Christmas.

Happy New Year!

Peace and Paz!
Shalom and Salaam!


(Thanks to Brad Jersak for reminding me of the Crossan passage.)