Friday, April 17, 2009

Does the Bible have a single purpose? Can it be readily expressed? In a single English sentence?

Am I alone in thinking it at first seems strange, or at the very least difficult, to search for the "purpose" of the Bible? It seems like the Bible is coherent, united, and in some sense teleological - but it also seems like its singular "purpose", whatever "purpose" means, would be difficult to capture. Seems like the Bible's single purpose, if it has one, would be quite expansive, and yet quite pithy (could it be expressed in English? In a single English sentence? If it required multiple sentences would it be more than a single "purpose"?). Seems like it would have something to do with the restoration of man's relationship to God, sure. But the purpose of the entire Bible? The single driving force behind every single verse? The Constitution that all punctuation, every rabbit-trail, and all repetitions of material have to answer to in order to justify their existence?

To summarize the purpose of the Bible would, I think, require extra-Biblical wording and thinking. Unless I can think of a Biblical statement that seems intended to summarize the purpose of the Bible as a whole, and to do so in a way that captures all the sub-purposes of the Bible, leaving nothing out, and also excluding everything that is not a purpose of the Bible.

Maybe 2 Timothy 3:16 or something along its lines?

One thing I see quite often throughout the Bible however, are singular authors' précises of their own works. Luke 1:1-4 and John 20:31 are a couple. Similarly, Philippians looks like a theologically rigorous thank-you note, and Romans a theologically rigorous support letter. Their purpose for being included in the Canon by the Holy Spirit however, might be something a little more higher-order than those purposes, however.

Speaking of higher-order: were Ezra's or Nehemiah's purpose for initially prophesying the same as the purpose of the inclusion of their books? Can all this rich, intricate, multi-leveled "purpose" be summed up?

If so, and I'm not convinced as of this writing, I will not quickly volunteer to attempt so.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Not that this is a conclusive answer to such an elaborate quandry, but I think Luke 24:7 might give us a clue.

  3. Perhaps it was pretentious of me to offer, in a single sentence, what the telos of the Canon is. I do like how you offered a plausible distinction between (1) the intentions of particular works by their particular authors and (2) the would-be intentions of the Holy Spirit to include such works in the “Canon”. Despite my rather thoughtless formulation of what I thought to be the single telos of Scripture, upon reflection I think that something like it must be true.

    I originally said that the purpose (in (2)’s sense) was:

    “The purpose of the Bible is to communicate to man his relationship to God and what man must do to restore it.”

    The term “relationship” is ambiguous. I think I meant it to be. I think you took it to mean “God’s interpersonal relationship to man and its restoration”. I meant it in this sense, as well as in the sense of “what it is that God is and what is that Man is, in relation to God.” Both senses overlap to a significant degree, and in other ways they don’t.

    So perhaps a more thoughtful but equally pretentious formulation of the single telos of Scripture (TOC) in (2)’s sense is:

    (TOC) The Holy Spirit brought about the books of the Canon as a means to communicating to Mankind what Man is in relation to God and the means of which Man can be restored to this relationship.

    Just because there’s an “and” in there, doesn’t mean that the unity of the telos is destroyed. I’d say the antecedent of the “and” clause is necessary for what is said subsequent to the “and” clause, and hence what is subsequent to the “and” clause is the telos of the Canon, a telos that includes the antecedent.

  4. Supposing TOC is true, what does this entail about whether Scripture is sufficient for human flourishing? I think that Man being restored to his proper relationship with God will entail the maximization of human flourishing. Though I think this is true, it doesn’t follow that Scripture, which explicates the means of which this restoration will be orchestrated, also includes in every explicit detail what the maximization of human flouring will look like. For instance, it will surely be the case that man’s maximal flourishing will include the state of affairs of “everyone loving their neighbor as themselves”. Though this is true, it’s open question if capitalism, or socialism, or neither, are most conducive to such state of affairs. The same goes for the question of capital punishment, whether contraception is permissible, ad infinitum. There seems to be an innumerable amount of issues that affect the maximization of human flourishing that the principles articulated in Scripture, by themselves, will not be sufficient to decide.

    Am I off my rocker here?

  5. What in the world is "human flouring"?


  6. I am not convinced that the Bible has a single purpose - it's not self-evident to me. I mean - God has multiple Persons! Why can't His word have multiple Purposes?

    That said, I lean toward thinking it does. And I am inclined to think we are on the right track in thinking it has something to do with communicating to humankind the details of our relationship to God and ow it can be restored.

  7. Why don't you guys just read the intro to The Purpose-Driven Bible?



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