God-Inspired Through Human Beings
For Augustine, the words of Scripture have a divine authority, integrally linked with the authority of the eternal Word of God. God has revealed himself to us in the words of Scripture which are the God-inspired words of mortal beings: “All those matters could have been done by angels, but the human condition would have been degraded if God would not seem to want to minister his own words to human beings through human beings” (On Christian Doctrine).
The Word in Flesh
The center of Augustine’s doctrine of Scripture is the incarnate Word. Augustine sets his theology of Scripture within the broader spectrum of the theology of salvation: “To enlighten us and enable us, the whole temporal dispensation was set up for our salvation.” Augustine had insisted that the ministry of Scripture is adjusted to the human condition: “Notice how although the Truth itself and the Word by which all things were made became flesh so that it could live among us, the apostle says: ‘And if we knew Christ according to the flesh, we do not know him in the same way now.’” Augustine’s doctrine of Scripture is determined by his decades-long contemplation of the eternal Word of God, incarnate in human history, assuming the lowliness of the human condition, at once our Way, our Truth and our Life.
The Word Incarnate and the words of Scripture are properly conditioned to our human time-bound existence and thus bind together the ministry of the Incarnate Word and the ministry of the words of Scripture. Thus the authority of Scripture is integrally linked with the ministry of Scripture, which in turn is linked with the ministry of the Word Incarnate. In his reflection on Psalm 99, Augustine writes: “Our whole purpose when we hear the Psalms, the Prophets, and the Law is to see Christ there, to understand Christ there.”
In his study of Augustine as a biblical interpreter, Charles Kannengiesser notes: “In analyzing Augustine’s place in the long line of biblical interpreters, it must be noted that the Bible helped Augustine to interpret himself as much as he became an interpreter of the Bible” (Historical Handbook of Major Biblical Interpreters).
To be continued. For a more in-depth treatment of what the theological giants in the Christian tradition have taught about Scripture, check out Christian Theologies of Scripture. You can also read the introduction online.