An Author’s Signature
Some authors leave marks of their authorship that have nothing to do with the point of their book. That seems to be the case, for example, with the letters of the apostle Paul. He wrote, “I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the sign of genuineness in every letter of mine; it is the way I write” (2 Thess. 3:17). Again in Galatians 6:11, he wrote, “See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand.” In other words, these marks of his authorship are not the great burden of his letters. They are not the vision of God and Christ and the Christian life that moved him to write in the first place. These are signatures. And even though signatures are important for authentication, they are not essential to the message. And even though signatures are important for authentication, they are not essential to the message.
Other authors develop a style of writing that is so unique that it functions as a mark of their own authorship. One thinks of G. K. Chesterton’s use of paradox, or Ernest Hemingway’s staccato sentences. Or Charles Dickens’s florid descriptions. Or Emily Dickinson’s deceptively simple brevity of verse. Of course, these styles are not artificially disconnected from the message or the purpose of the writings. But neither are they the main point. Probably each author would say they are essential to what they are trying to do overall. But I doubt that any of them would say, “The main thing I want people to take away from my work is my style.”
The Divine Signature
But things are different when we think of God’s relationship to the Bible. He did not sign it with a distinctive signature. And when he inspired it (2 Tim. 3:16), he did not overrule the individual styles of the human authors so as to create a style of his own—such as a divine diction, or heavenly vocabulary, or Godlike cadence. When the officers of the Pharisees said of Jesus, “No one ever spoke like this man!” they were not referring to his accent or his vocabulary or his oratorical skill. They were referring to the overall nature and impact of the man as he spoke. The Pharisees saw where this was going and said, “Have you also been deceived? Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him?” (John 7:47–48). In other words, they saw that the officers were starting to see something that awakens faith. But it was not a signature or a style.
What is different about the way God authenticates the Bible is that the ground he gives for the Bible’s truth is the same as the center and aim of the Bible’s message. The peculiar glory of God is both the substance and the seal of the story that the Bible tells. It is not as though God speaks in his word, revealing his nature and his purposes, and then must add a separate marker for his divinity—like a signature or a style. His glory, through his word, is the message and his marker.
To be sure, God often “bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders” (Acts 14:3). But the signs and wonders were not decisive. They could be denied, distorted, and rejected as completely as his word was—which we know from the life of Judas, and from certain people who saw Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead and then helped his murderers (John 11:45–53). Rather, those miracles were woven together with God’s word into a tapestry of the revelation of the peculiar glory of God. That glory is the ultimate meaning of the tapestry and the decisive mark of its divine reality.
Implications for the Big Picture
If that is true, then we would not be surprised that the Bible calls for a supernatural reading, since seeing divine glory in human words is not your ordinary way of reading a book.
The way I would like to put the question is this: What does the Bible itself say is the ultimate goal of reading the Bible? If the Bible makes clear that the goal of reading the Bible is to see what can only be supernaturally seen, then the implications for how we read the Bible will be profound.
So, first, what does the Bible tell us is the ultimate goal of reading the Bible? What follows is my proposed answer to this question, with six implications.
The Bible itself shows that our ultimate goal in reading the Bible is that God’s infinite worth and beauty would be exalted in the everlasting, white-hot worship of the blood-bought bride of Christ from every people, language, tribe, and nation. In other words, each time we pick up the Bible to read, we should intend that reading would lead to this end. The way that we as individuals are caught up into this ultimate aim as we read the Bible becomes clear as we spell out six implications that flow from this proposed answer to our question. When we say that the ultimate goal of reading the Bible is that God’s infinite worth and beauty would be exalted in the everlasting, white-hot worship of the blood-bought bride of Christ from every people, language, tribe, and nation, we imply that:
- the infinite worth and beauty of God are the ultimate value and excellence of the universe;
- that the supremely authentic and intense worship of God’s worth and beauty is the ultimate aim of all his work and word;
- that we should always read his word in order to see this supreme worth and beauty;
- that we should aim in all our seeing to savor his excellence above all things;
- that we should aim to be transformed by this seeing and savoring into the likeness of his beauty,
- so that more and more people would be drawn into the worshiping family of God until the bride of Christ—across all centuries and cultures—is complete in number and beauty.