Lewis and the Bible: New and Old Testaments

We know C.S. Lewis has a high opinion of the Bible. What is less cited are specific references that Lewis calls out in poetic and theological language, through his stories, his essays, and most certainly his letters. In a series of entries simply titled “Lewis and the Bible”, I hope to bring out several examples of Lewis’s belief in the inspired Word of God as well as his more nuanced ideas. One note to remember: Lewis never claims any “theologian” status, so his approach to Scripture is more pedestrian and, because of his academic interests, more poetic and literary than some. 

Let’s start with Lewis’s idea of the Bible generally. In his essay “God in the Dock”, Lewis ties in the Old and New Testaments with the revelation we know in Jesus.

The Bible can be divided into two parts – the Old and the New Testaments. The Old Testament contains fabulous elements. The New Testament consists mostly of teaching, not of narrative at all: but where it is narrative, it is, in my opinion, historical. As to the fabulous element in the Old Testament, I very much doubt if you would be wise to chuck it out. What you get is something coming gradually into focus. First you get, scattered through the heathen religions all over the world – but still quite vague and mythical – the idea of a god who is killed and broken and then comes to life again. No one knows where he is supposed to have lived and died; he’s not historical. Then you get the Old Testament. Religious ideas get a bit more focused. Everything is now connected with a particular nation. And it comes still more into focus as it goes on. Jonah and the Whale, Noah and his Ark, are fabulous; but the Court history of King David is probably as reliable as the Court history of Louis XIV. Then, in the New Testament the thing really happens. The dying god really appears – as a historical Person, living in a definite place and time. If we could sort out all the fabulous elements in the earlier stages and separate them from the historical ones, I think we might lose an essential part of the whole process.

In the “Weight of Glory”, he sums up what Scripture provides:

The promises of Scripture may very roughly be reduced to five heads. It is promised (1) that we shall be with Christ; (2) that we shall be like Him; (3) with an enormous wealth of imagery, that we shall have “glory”; (4) that we shall, in some sense, be fed or feasted or entertained; and (5) that we shall have some sort of official position in the universe—ruling cities, judging angels, being pillars of God’s temple.

What is nice about Lewis’s perspective is it never neglects the meta-narrative. Theologically, the relationship of God with his creation is categorized in (1) creation; (2) the fall; (3) redemption; (4) and restoration. Stories and prophecies weave together to form the reality of God’s working through these broad stroke categories. In his essay “Is Theology Poetry?”, Lewis puts some notes into this song of God, some poetry into these theological groupings.

From things like Noah’s Ark or the sun standing still upon Ajalon, you come down to the court memoirs of King David. Finally you reach the New Testament and history reigns supreme, and the Truth is incarnate. And “incarnate” is here more than a metaphor. It is not an accidental resemblance that what, from the point of view of being, is stated in the form “God became Man”, should involve, from the point of view of human knowledge, the statement “Myth became Fact”. The essential meaning of all things came down from the “heaven” of myth to the “earth” of history. In so doing, it partly emptied itself of its glory, as Christ emptied Himself of His glory to be Man. That is the real explanation of the fact that Theology, far from defeating its rivals by a superior poetry, is, in a superficial but quite real sense, less poetical than they.

That is why the New Testament is, in the same sense, less poetical than the Old. Have you not often felt in Church, if the first lesson is some great passage, that the second lesson is somehow small by comparison – almost, if one might say so, hum-drum? So it is and so it must be. This is the humiliation of myth into fact, of God into Man: what is everywhere and always, imageless and ineffable, only to be glimpsed in dream and symbol and the acted poetry of ritual, becomes small, solid – no bigger than a man who can be asleep in a rowing boat on the Lake of Galilee. You may say that this, after all, is a still deeper poetry. I will not contradict you. The humiliation leads to a greater glory. But the humiliation of God and the shrinking or condensation of the myth as it becomes fact, are also quite real.

 

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