Closer than Ever to the Breath of God
This assumption is not arbitrary, but is supported by our reading of Scripture: "Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…" (Hebrews 1:1). The New Testament is that collections of books that are the earliest and most faithful witnesses to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and the good news of the gospel he came to proclaim and make a reality. Very early in our history, the church determined to guide itself by these witnesses, so that even in those Reformation debates, Catholic scholars also argued from Scripture. Catholics still leave room for the development of doctrine, for the Holy Spirit's bringing us into all truth. But Protestants are suspicious of any so-called Holy Spirit truth that isn't supported strongly in the pages of the original Scriptures. We look not just to the New Testament but also to the Hebrew Scriptures, what we call the Old Testament. Why? Because Jesus and the early apostles considered these Scripture—"breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness."
And we Protestants want to be as close to the breath of God as possible.
In the Presence of an Artifact
Much occurs psychologically when we stand in the presence of an historic artifact. We are bodily people, and so matter matters. When touching a coin from ancient Israel, we touch something that has been touched by people long, long ago. We are tangibly connected with men and women of another time and place, so distant and different, and yet one of us. We imagine what life was like for them, as best we can, and wonder about what we cannot imagine. Such ruminations often prompt thoughts of our own mortality, and the smallness of the individual in the grand sweep of history. Archeology exhibits always leave me wistful, reminding me that my life is but a breath (Job 7.7). In the presence of an artifact, we stand before the mystery of life.
When we do this before an ancient piece of parchment, on which a passage of Holy Scripture is written, even more is going on. We also know the communion of saints as we ponder the work of a fellow believer across time, admiring his faithful dedication to his task, that because of his labors, the Scriptures have come to future generations, to the likes of me and mine.
And then there is this—the notion shared by all Christians even as we differ on how biblical inspiration actually occurred: I'm looking at a word that at some point in some place was breathed upon by God, like the glorious moment lost in the mist of history when the divine breath made the first man a living soul.
When I meditate on a Dead Sea Scroll biblical manuscript in that perfect glass circle of light and darkness, of explanation and mystery, more is going on than archeology and even psychology. I'm traveling through time, and at moments find myself a millennium closer to the very breath of God.
Mark Galli is senior managing editor of Christianity Today.
In "SoulWork," Mark Galli brings news, Christian theology, and spiritual direction together to explore what it means to be formed spiritually in the image of Jesus Christ.
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