I’m still awaiting my copy of the Lutheran Study Bible, but I see there has been a small spat in the Lutheran blogo/twittersphere about its notes on Exodus 7:17.
The note suggests that when God turned the water of the Nile into blood, “it was not a chemical change into real blood, but a change in appearance, possibly because of red algae”. This was described by one reader as “an epic failure, heresy and a false hermeneutic” (emphasis added), and it appears that a fairly passionate discussion ensued. Dan’s post at Necessary Roughness summarises the debate in rather more measured terms (though still critical of TLSB’s note).
As I said in a comment on Dan’s post:
Whether it’s actual blood or the appearance of blood, it’s clearly a miraculous occurrence above and beyond any natural event.
I don’t see why our commitment to Scripture as God’s (written) Word commits us in advance to particular exegetical conclusions on what that Word says. I sometimes get the impression that a certain machismo creeps in, a desire to push the “literal” meaning as far as possible in order to demonstrate just how seriously you take God’s Word: “Well, I double-super-extra believe in the Bible, so [to take a not-dissimilar example] I think that Jesus sweated actual blood rather than just blood-like drops of sweat!”
All this seems related to a point I’ve made before on the difference between two approaches to the authority of the Bible, which can be summarised as follows:
- “I believe in Jesus because I believe the Bible.”
- “I believe the Bible because I believe in Jesus.”
The problem with the first – Karl Barth’s famous citation of “Jesus loves me, this I know” notwithstanding – is that it can lead to a defensive view of the Bible. Because if the Bible (which is unconsciously equated with our interpretation of it) can’t be trusted, then how can we be sure about Jesus?
Every perceived contradiction or difficulty in the Bible, every questioning of received interpretations of it, therefore becomes a threat to our faith in Christ himself. And biblical interpretation becomes an exercise in shoring up the foundations: “blood” must mean “blood” in Exodus 7:17, because otherwise how can we be sure that “blood” means “blood” in Matthew 26:28?
Hence I prefer the second way of expressing the position. I believe in Jesus, and therefore I believe the Bible – not because I always understand it or am in agreement with every “traditional” interpretation of it (see: literal six-day creationism), but because Jesus affirmed the Old Testament and commissioned the New Testament. This view frees us to suspend judgment on the meaning of “difficult” passages, to question received interpretations, without this unsettling our faith: because our faith rests on Jesus, not on our ability to understand every word of the Bible.
This isn’t to drive a wedge between the written Word and the incarnate Word, setting one in opposition to the other. Our knowledge of Jesus and our understanding of the Bible are intertwined with one another and inseparable. But ultimately it is our faith in Jesus that is foundational.
Note: when I mentioned this view on the Boar’s Head Tavern recently, someone asked me (quite reasonably) how we can believe in Jesus if we don’t have a prior acceptance of the Bible, since all our knowledge of Jesus comes from the Bible. There are two responses to this.
First, it’s possible to accept the Gospels as a reliable testimony to Jesus on merely human grounds. However, the testimony they give is to Jesus being the risen Son of God. And then Jesus the risen Son of God testifies to the rest of the Bible. (That is not a merely theoretical consideration; it’s a description of my own conversion experience.)
Second, our knowledge of and belief in Jesus does not come only from the Bible (at least not directly), but from the church’s ministry of word and sacraments, the witness of individual Christians, and so on. Most people come to faith in Jesus, not because someone convinced them that the Bible is literal truth from cover to cover, but because they grew up within the life of the church or were converted by the witness and love of other Christians.