I came across this post on The Evolution of the Bible – and the Evolution of Us today that fits neatly into a conversation I had the other day:
Nineteenth-century source criticism was all about trying to uncover the various layers of Amos (and every other book of the Bible). The idea was to isolate the “true” historical Amos underneath the edits and redactions made by future generations compiling his spoken oracles into a single volume. There’s nothing wrong with this, but the problem lies in the assumption of those earliest scholars – the notion that the “true” Amos was more valuable than the rest because it was more historically accurate. That’s very modernist, and it’s very unfair to the text. We have the canonical version of Amos for a reason, however the evolution took place.
In the words of a rabbi I spoke to a few years ago, “We believe we have the Bible that God wants us to have.”
Michael Gorman makes a similar point in his book Apostle of the Crucified Lord when he notes that not only writing, but also editing, collecting, and canonizing the scriptural texts are elements of the natural human process through which Christians believe the inspiration of the Holy Spirit was at work. (p 90)
As a Catholic, the way I think about this is that the Bible and the Church condition each other. Both are witnesses to the same experience. The authors, revisers, redactors, editors, and canonizers of the scriptural texts were members of the church, acting under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. And those two clauses — “members of the church” and “acting under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit” — are two aspects of the same event. I think that often, when we say that the human authors of the bible were “inspired by the Spirit,” we have this unspoken picture that each individual author went off into a cave somewhere with nothing but parchment, pen, and prayer, stayed there till they were done writing what the Holy Spirit was whispering into their ears, then came out and presented the resulting scriptural text to the church.
But if you think about it, this is nonsense. Who are Christians, after all? Members of Christ’s body, the church: baptized into the community, sealed by the Holy Spirit, formed and nourished by the community gathered in prayer to preach and reflect on scripture and celebrate the Lord’s Supper. The people who produced the Christian Bible were shaped by the church community… which was shaped by scripture and sacrament. It’s a circle, with the Holy Spirit breathing through all of it.