“Docetism” (from the Greek word “dokeo” meaning “I seem”) usually refers to an unorthodox view of Jesus that alleges He was a pure spirit and only “seemed” to have a physical body.
Orthodoxy of course has long insisted Jesus had two natures, one human and the other divine.
The the purpose of this post though is not to get into the Docetic controversy over the nature of Jesus. Rather it is to use that ancient controversy as metaphor for understanding a similarly “Docetic” controversy over the nature of the Bible.
Just as the ancient church argued over the question of whether Jesus had one nature (divine) or two natures (divine and human), the present-day church likewise has a similar argument over the nature of the Bible.
Does it have just one dimension (divine) or two (a divine dimension and a human one as well)?
Some say the Bible has both. Others deny its all-too-apparent human dimension as simply a “Docetic” illusion?
But is a “docetic” view of the Bible possible without fideistic obscurantism — “fideistic” in the equation of absurdity with piety and “obscurant” in suppression of knowledge about how the Bible came to be.
If Roman Catholics have one bible while Protestants obviously have another, how can the human dimension of the bible be denied?
Does the “Bible” exist as a Platonic form in heaven casting a divine reflection on earth? Or is its existence earthly, embodied in particular canons, languages, translations, and versions? Moreover, doesn’t every faith community makes as least some distinctions as to the quality of competing “bibles,” often including the pros and cons of the underlying manuscript traditions? How then can the human dimension of the Bible be denied? But many do . . . .
And a good reminder of the particular nature of
“the Bible” would be to limit the word
“bible” to lowercase letters unless it’s being
used in a proper noun; e.g., New American Bible.
The early church spent hundreds of years sorting out the coexistence of two natures (human and divine) in Jesus.
Similar effort is needed to explain how divine and human dimensions intersect in the bible.
So the purpose of this post is not to solve the problem, but to offer some suggestions.
One would be to avoid using “Word of God,” “Scripture,” and “Bible” as synonyms.
“Word of God” (“God’s Word”) can easily be made to encompass both “Scripture” and “bible.”
“Scripture” could then be used to refer to God’s Word in its divine dimension — while “bible” could be used to refer to God’s Word in its human dimension.
The authority of God’s Word in its divine dimension is best expressed as “Scripture” — while the authority of God’s Word in its human dimension is best expressed in terms of the various canons of various bibles.
The audience of God’s Word in its divine dimension is unbounded by the universality of the word “Scripture” — while the audiences of God’s Word in its human dimensions are bounded by the occasional and often circuitous development of various bibles.
The language of God’s Word in its divine dimension is the universal language of “Scripture” — while the languages of God’s Word its human dimensions are constituted by particular languages — original languages such as Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic and translations into other tongues such as Latin, English, Spanish, and on and on.
These kinds of distinctions account for the unavoidable facts surrounding the development of various bibles while also preserving appropriate reverence for the Scripture those bibles represent within their respective traditions. In other words, they express how God’s Word, like Jesus, has two natures — a divine dimension and a human one.
In 2 Cor 4:7, Paul says, “we have this treasure in earthen vessels,” speaking of the Gospel’s embodiment in human messengers. A similar thing is true of Scripture. God has providentially embodied that “heavenly treasure” into the earthly vessel we call “the Bible.”
— Bill Brewer