“Not spake but speaketh”

In his book Whose Bible Is It? (see previous post), Jaroslav Pelikan describes how Ralph Waldo Emerson coined the phrase “not spake but speaketh” to express his belief that people should cast aside the Bible and other sacred books, and instead seek divine revelation at first hand.

However, as Pelikan goes on to point out:

“Not spake but speaketh” aptly describes the ongoing revelation of the word of God that has come over and over again and that still continues to come now, not in some kind of high-flying independence from but, to the contrary, in a devout and persevering engagement with the pages of the Sacred Book. (p.73)

It remains true today that many people want a God of whom it can be said, “not spake but speaketh”. Sadly, it remains equally true that many people believe the only way to find such a God is to look elsewhere than the written word of God.

However, as we’ve seen in my previous post, the God who “spake” in the Bible is the God who “speaketh” when that written Word is used for its intended purpose: to form the basis of the church’s verbal proclamation of God’s law and promises, and of the church’s response in its liturgy and worship.

As Pelikan states later in the same chapter:

Commentary and liturgy were two ways, greatly different and yet ultimately complementary, of making the sacred text contemporary. (p.85)

What I found helpful about this remark is that it shows the valuable role that commentary on, and study of, the Bible have in the life of the church. While in a sense secondary to the public proclamation of the word of God, they are part of a creative dynamic of study and proclamation that form a large part of the “devout and persevering engagement” to which Prof. Pelikan refers.

Study and commentary need proclamation in order to live, but proclamation without a firm bedrock of study and commentary will tend to become trite, predictable and unengaging, with the result that God’s voice is not heard with the living freshness it is intended to have.

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3 Responses to “Not spake but speaketh”

  1. Rick says:

    Great post!

    Another thing that should be mentioned in terms of study is the importance of good questions. Laymen sometimes believe that study is only for pastors and teachers, who wow them with insights they cannot hope to find for themselves. Now some of these are rooted in tradition, and no individual should hope to find for himself everything that the church has discovered over many centuries. In such cases pastors and teachers should admit their sources so the laymen know that they too can find these treasures. But other insights can be found through asking better questions.

    I teach my Bible class Socratically, and have hopes that the better questions become even more embedded in my class’s minds than the answers we come up with.

    My favorite lately is, “Where else in the Bible is this taught?” Another I always ask after reading the morning’s passage is, “Is there anything that anyone noticed this time through that they’ve never noticed before in this passage?” While I’m mostly surprised at how Biblically literate our congregation is, the answers here can surprise me the other way. People who have shown that they otherwise know the Bible very well can have missed some very basic things. Their sophisticated grasp of the nuances of some things doesn’t mean they know all the fundamentals. Though other times my questions reveal that they have better Scriptures to support doctrines than I do.

    A good question can get a familiar text to say something new.

  2. Pingback: Confessing Evangelical » Blog Archive » Asking the right questions

  3. Pingback: Confessing Evangelical » Blog Archive » “Scripture alone” - but Scripture is never alone

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