The Visible Word

Posted: January 11, 2014 by J in Bible, Church history, Theology

Last post we described the ‘hearing not seeing’ tradition that is so strong in our Protestant heritage. Our biggest question about this approach to the Word of God, is whether it does justice to the incarnation:

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory… (John 1:14)

And whoever sees me sees him who sent me.   (John 12:45)

Surely this event changes everything. The Word of God, which had so long been held as promises, now becomes fulfilment. The faith of Simeon and his sort, based in what they had heard, now becomes faith in what they see:

Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your Word;  
for my eyes have seen your salvation, (Luke 2:29-30)

Before, it was the Word promised. Now it is the Word revealed and visible. For the Word has taken on flesh.

Then turning to the disciples, Jesus said to them privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see!  For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it… (Luke 10:23)

We might say then that the big difference between this age and the previous one before Christ, is that now is the age of sight.

It seems strange, for a faith that is grounded in the incarnation of the Word, to disparage seeing in favour of hearing – don’t you think?

To focus in more specifically within Christ’s incarnation, there is the resurrection of Jesus, that age-turning moment in salvation history. The great thing emphasised about this event, is that it was witnessed. Seen.

Come, see the place where he lay.  Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ (Matt. 28:6-7)

Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”  Luke 24:39

And this sight then becomes the basis for the apostolic announcement:

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of life—  this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it…  (1 John 1:1-2)

Here the thing seen is ‘the Word of life’. Once again it is the Word which has become visible and tangible.

And so people were encouraged to believe in the risen Christ on the basis of this eye witness:

This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.  (Acts 2:32)

Seeing, then hearing. For our faith in the resurrection of Christ, it seems seeing comes first, and is the basis for the heard Word.

In NT Christology, hearing and seeing go very much together. Far from being in tension with each other, the two operate hand in hand. The Word can be heard, seen and touched.

We have to ask then whether the Protestant and Reformed emphasis on hearing over against seeing fits well with our theology of the Word, of the incarnate Christ. It is wise to extract one aspect of the Word, excluding the other?

Tomorrow: seeing the kingdom

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