C.S. Lewis on the "Word of God"

How the “Word of God” became a synonymous term for the Bible, I am not sure. The Bible never calls itself this, and it has caused confusion among many as to what it actually means. Here is an excerpt of C.S. Lewis from his book, “Reflections on the Psalms” dealing with this subject:

"…Holy Scripture is in some sense though not all parts of it in the same sense-the word of God…I take it that the whole Old Testament consists of the same sort of material as any other literature-chronicle (some of it obviously pretty accurate), poems, moral and political diatribes, romances, and what not; but all taken into the service of God’s word. Not all, I suppose, in the same way. There are prophets who write with the clearest awareness that Divine compulsion is upon them. There are chroniclers whose intention may have been merely to record. There are poets like those in the Song of Songs who probably never dreamed of any but a secular and natural purpose in what they composed. There is (and it is no less important) the work first of the Jewish and then of the Christian Church in preserving and canonising just these books. There is the work of redactors and editors in modifying them. On all of these I suppose a Divine pressure; of which not by any means all need have been conscious. The human qualities of the raw materials show through. Naivety, error, contradiction, even (as in the cursing Psalms) wickedness are not removed. The total result is not “the Word of God” in the sense that every passage, in itself, gives impeccable science or history. It carries the Word of God; and we (under grace, with attention to tradition and to interpreters wiser than ourselves, and with the use of such intelligence and learning as we may have) receive that word from it not by using it as an encyclopedia or an encyclical but by steeping ourselves in its tone or temper and so learning its overall message. To a human mind this working-up (in a sense imperfectly), this sublimation (incomplete) of human material, seems, no doubt, an untidy and leaky vehicle. We might have expected, we may think we should have preferred, an unrefracted light giving us ultimate truth in systematic form-something we could have tabulated and memorised and relied on like the multiplication table. One can respect, and at moments envy, both the Fundamentalist’s view of the Bible and the Roman Catholic’s view of the Church. But there is one argument which we should beware of using for either position: God must have done what is best, this is best, therefore God has done this. For we are mortals and do not know what is best for us, and it is dangerous to prescribe what God must have done-especially when we cannot, for the life of us, see that He has after all done it. We may observe that the teaching of Our Lord Himself, in which there is no imperfection, is not given us in that cut-and-dried, fool-proof, systematic fashion we might have expected or desired. He wrote no book. We have only reported sayings, most of them uttered in answer to questions, shaped in some degree by their context. And when we have collected them all we cannot reduce them to a system…He will not be, in the way we want, “pinned down”. The attempt is (again, I mean no irreverence) like trying to bottle a sunbeam.”

C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (London: Wyman & Sons, Ltd, 1958), 19, 111, 112, 113.


Dawn McLaughlin83 said...

C.S. Lewis has such a way with words and cutting to the heart of things! Kinda makes those who uphold only one translation to be accurate look foolish. Scripture has been so manipulated over time to change truth as the original writers and readers intended. Many truths have been completely lost as the text has been sanitized. I don't know why this is so difficult for folks to get a grip on. Perhaps because it requires some thought to sort through it all?

Shaun Rufener said...

Absolutely Dawn. And like many in the public arena, there are things to like, and things to dislike. There are certain things which he said/wrote that I can wholeheartedly accept, believing there was value in some of his astute observations, while on the other hand there are perspectives of his I find errant, tainted and perhaps at times deceptive. He was after all, an apologist for a (at times seemingly abstract) form of orthodoxy. I treat his materials as I do with many I read: chew up to meat, spit out the bones. As you said, this takes effort.