Oliver O’Donovan: Six Theses on Scripture

Oliver O’Donovan: Six Theses on scripture

1. Scripture is set apart from every other literary corpus simply by its function in the saving purposes of God; it is a literary corpus that is, to use John Webster’s term, “sanctified” to its task. But that is of a piece with the saving purposes of God to call out Israel and to anoint Christ for the salvation of the world. The specialness of Scripture belongs to its connection with Israel and Christ.

2. Holy Scripture is a part of God’s own self-attestation in deed and word. It is not a secondary reflection on it, which, had it not occurred, would have left God’s message about himself intact. In speaking of Scripture, then, we properly speak of the voice of God as well as of the voice of its human authors.

3. The authors of the books of Scripture were called to perform human tasks in God’s service, just as Israel was. There specialness does not consist in some unique superhuman activity, as though writing a Gospel was different from writing anything else. They are special because of their place in the redeeming work of God. Nothing in the humanity of the authors implies an imperfection in their work; nothing in their election to divine service authorizes us to attribute to them any other perfection than the one relevant perfection: God attests himself through them.

4. The faith demanded of the reader of Scripture is faith in the saving work of God attested there, which is therefore a faith in Scripture too. It implies willingness to accept the testimony of Scripture without presuming to improve upon it—by excision, by correction, or by privileging a canon within the canon—but instead simply seeking to understand in fidelity and obedience, without presuppositions or conditions.

5. Every element of Scripture contributes to the testimony of the whole, but the different contributions are not uniform. The right understanding of any given element of Scripture is determined by its relation to the whole; but that means by its relation to the historical shape of the event that Scripture attests, the calling of Israel fulfilled in the coming of Christ.

6. The church’s role in determining the canon was in the first place an act of recognition, discerning and acknowledging the unity and authority that belonged to this literature by virtue of its sanctification by God. At the same time, secondarily, it was, like the framing of the creeds themselves, an exercise of its authority to teach. the ARCIC report The Gift of Authority said well, “It was at the same time an act of obedience and authority.”

from “The Moral Authority of Scripture,” in Scripture’s Doctrine and Theology’s Bible, (Baker, 2008), 166-167.

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