In my personal times of Scriptural or theological debate there's usually a moment of clarity when quotation marks bring conclusion to the matter. They are an interesting and useful grammatical device, quotation marks. They identify direct speech, quotations by individuals, or phrases that should be set apart for one reason or another. When we use quotation marks we're attributing words or concrete thoughts to someone, usually for the purpose of establishing the authenticity or validity of a position we've taken on an issue. When we're running in circles over a question or a point of argument, a direct quote often brings an answer into focus.
Here's a good one. Is the television a useful educational device. Yes? No?
Sometimes? Never? Comedian Groucho Marx once said, "I find the television very
educational. Every time someone turns on the set I go into the other room and
read a book." There, the argument settled by an authoritative quote.
Quotation marks help me teach Old and New Testament survey courses. Call me a simpleton or coward but when Scriptural questions arise I usually place quotation marks around the entire Bible. When the authorship debates start flying in these young learners I remind them that God wrote the Bible. it is a traditional evangelical position, the veracity of Scripture. It's authority for my life derives from the sincere belief that every word of Scripture was breathed into it's authors by God the Spirit. When I'm tripping over complicated Bible questions or sensing confusion on the faces of my students, I answer the inquisitions with the most honest scholarship available to me and then settle the deal with quotation marks.
Simple or not the truth of Scripture, history, and revelation is that God hasn't shown us humans everything. Sure, I want to plow through the Bible to explore the secret things of God, perhaps discover the meaning of the apocalyptic symbols in Revelation, know more about Job's suffering, or find out if my aunt's dog will be in heaven. Then, I remember Deuteronomy 29:29---
The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to
us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.
Deuteronomy 29:29, ESV
Sonny just doesn't have to know everything. Yes, there's this human sinfulness that is aggravated by such truth. We humans want to sit in God's seat at times, possessing the keys to the Kingdom in our grubby hands and being able to grasp how God filled the oceans with water or scattered the stars across the heavens. There's an urgency to know the deep things, and to teach them in our commission of disciple making. But, mere humans like me cannot go there. To place quotation marks around the entire reminds me that God wrote the whole thing, even the parts beyond my understanding.
Our grandfather, Rev O.F. Owens used to drop a word about these quotation marks in his preaching on occasion. It's an old school adage that's been used for generations but is now passe in the world of Bible scholarship. Maybe it's just a little too simple for complex evangelicals like us. Anyway, he would say, "God said it. I believe it. That settles it." He and many of his cohorts just didn't have room for the word games us moderns like to play. Now we have to sift a saying like that through our translation and interpretation metrics because we humans are totally capable taking a Bible word out of context or using God's Word for something more personal. Still, the idea of quotation marks stiffens our reliance and dependence on the Word of God and moves us beyond the quibbles we like to make. Let's get to the truth.
The Christmas miracle is astounding. Incredible? Miraculous! All of the details about it were inspired in Scripture to raise our awareness of the fulfillment of biblical prophecy and the path God has chosen to redeem humankind. When we argue, debate, and sew confusion about some of the fine points of what happened in Bethlehem we're missing the bigger point of quotation marks. God inspired the ones who wrote it. It has been preserved in history and through various interpretations and translation as our sure word of God becoming man.
Quotation marks remind me that God wrote it. And, that really ought to be enough.
Happy New Year!