John Owen on the Divine Voice in Scripture

Owen Bib TheoWe’ve looked in a number of posts at how it is that the word of God is also the words of men.  This is an important thing to emphasize in the present evangelical milieu wherin which many with a shallow approach to God’s word are so uncomfortable with the earthiness of scripture that they bend over backwards to explain away the difficulties.

Nevertheless, it is also important to emphasize that by the human voices of scripture, we also hear the divine voice.  What is more, in the written word we hear the spoken voice of our heavenly Father – a perplexing but interesting dialectic between orality and textuality!

It is interesting to hear John Owen’s comments long before speech-act theory and double agency discourse were codified and applied to the oral/written and divine/human aspects of God’s word:

Before the committing of the Word to writing, most God-fearers had no other guarantee of the divinity of the doctrines than the fact that blessings flowed to them through the ministry of the few recipients.  Once the mind of God had been reduced to writing, each mortal and invidual man, to whom the Scriptures may come, has God speaking to them no less directly than if he were hearing God speaking with His own voice to them, exactly as did Adam when he heard the voice of the Lord in the garden.  Even the spoken voice cannot reach the ears of men but through a communicating medium, that is, the air in which it is formed; so it cannot be denied that it is the voice of God speaking to men, though it is handed on through the communicating medium of writing.  It is in no way diminished by being reduced to writing, having first been revealed to those sorts of chosen men whom we mentioned before, for the divine element remains in the written word of god as clearly as in those immediate revelations which gave so clear an evidence of their heavenly truth to those to whom they were granted.

Biblical Theology: The History of Theology from Adam to Christ, pgs. 374-75. (Bold emphasis mine)

While Owen’s language of “reducing the mind of God to writing” is a bit peculiar and, for that matter, the language of reduction being applied to the written word at all (which really seems to presume the primacy of speech over writing), his emphasis in on the fact that God’s word is not diminished in its written form.   While Reformed theology has always had a robust understanding of the role of the preached word (i.e., the spoken word of God – See Michael Horton’s book on Ecclesiology, chs. 3 & 4), this is always accompanied by an equally strong emphasis on the importance of the written word, vividly portrayed by  Owen.

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Andrew