Anyone who reads the Bible closely knows that there it possesses impressive diversity. Not all perspectives in Scripture are the same. Some of the differences we find in Scripture are insignificant, but some of them are more substantial and make you wonder if the authors missed a memo or something.
Take, for instance, the differences in the Kings and Chronicles accounts of Solomon and Mannaseh. The differences are not just a matter of more or less detail. The differences represent very different takes on the meaning of the story. Or take the wisdom literature. These books (Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes) share a common question that might be framed as follows: how much about God can we know by observing the world around us? Proverbs would say, quite a lot. Job, not as much as you would think. Ecclesiastes, not a thing, its all vanity.
Or we might take the gospels. They don’t tell the stories in the same order, and part of the meaning of a text is surely found in the way you order the stories. You can’t simply harmonize the four accounts.
This was tried early in the church’s history. A guy named Tatian decided it would be better to take the four gospels and turn them into one account of the life of Jesus. He called it the Diatessaron. The early church thought it was a bad idea and branded Tatian a heretic.
The Bible possesses diversity. The earliest Christians valued that.
I like to tell my students that the Bible is less like a solo, one voice speaking or singing, and more like a chorus or symphony–multiple voices and multiple movements or musical themes within the same composition. Sometimes those themes even sound jarring, like they don’t belong together. They are discordant. But taken as a whole, they form a piece rich with meaning.
For some people, the diversity of Scripture is a threat to their understanding of God. How could God be represented by a text that has differences? Isn’t God perfect? And don’t differences represent imperfections?
I prefer the word holy to the word perfect, at least what we typically mean when we say perfect. For us, the word perfect tends to mean simple and undivided. We get this definition from our old Greek friends like Aristotle. Holiness, a more prominent biblical word for describing God, takes us in a little bit different direction. Holiness means that God is not like us. God is other than us. God’s ways are not our ways. And while God makes himself known, God cannot be reduced to a single idea or concept. God is holy.
My question becomes, in light of God’s holiness, how could a book speak meaningfully about God from one perspective? It simply couldn’t. It would take a book with rich variety to represent a holy God. Diversity, from this perspective, is not a threat to our understanding of God’s identity, but essential to it.
So, I’m nervous when people talk about the Bible as a singularity. “The biblical perspective is… the biblical story… the biblical witness…” You get the idea. I want to say, the biblical testimonies, stories, perspectives, etc.
Some might worry that this would leave us little to say about God with conviction. I have not found that to be the case. Instead, I have found a richer textual world, brimming with generative energy, full of insights that speak to the array of situations and contexts that I encounter in life.
Holy God, holy scripture.
Yes, and to draw the loop back to your earlier post, even a particular text doesn’t add up to a singularity. Luke 10 said X to me four months ago, and even though I recall that reading and others, today Y stands out as the principal thought. I like your comparison to a rich and sometimes-discordant symphony.