Monday, June 06, 2005

The "Unity and Coherence" of Scripture

That the Bible possesses a coherence and that as a whole it is unified, is commonly asserted. That it is, is of course of vital importance. If Scripture is not coherent and not unified, then how can it possibly take the place of the guiding factor in our lives?

But what do we mean when we state that the Scripture is coherent and unified? Without some sort of qualification, the claim remains without any real meaning. We need to be clear in what sense(s) Scripture is "coherent" and "unified". This has been done in a number of ways. Some have located it in Scriptures theology, but it has been shown that the Old Testament alone throws up diffuculties for such a claim.[1] Others have tried to locate its coherence or unity in a single topos such as "love", but this innevitably results in the neglect or rejection of all else that either appears to contradict it or that is not particularly reslated to it. As this approach does not provide any real framework for reading the Bible theologically, there is also the problem of where in Scripture to draw a defenition of love from.

It is my contention that ‘story’ is what gives Scripture its coherence and unity. There is an over-arching story, a grand narrative which is the ground of its unity, and in relation to which each piece of Scripture finds meaning. Scripture's coherence and unity is defined by this factor, that it all relates to the same God and his plan of redemption as it unfolds in history. This story is constructed from various narratives in Scripture and from various commentaries on the story (e.g. parts of the prophets, Paul's letters). Parts of the story are also recounted at several points. However, , for it contains many different genres. The story is the sum of many narratives and is distinct from the many narratives although it encompasses them all. Hence it would be misleading to say that Scripture (as a whole) tells a single story in the sense that a novel or a movie would and equally misleading, therefore, to describe the Bible as 'a story' alone. Three reasons commend such as approach: (1) It takes the dominent genre of Scripture (narrative) seriously; (2) it provides a framework for appropriating the Bible today; (3) it is grounded in the faith to which the Bible is a witness and a sustainer. This last point is what i am currently exploring in my research and my next blog will be on it.

[1] See for instance John Goldingay, Theological Diversity and the Authority of the Old Testament

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