C.S. Lewis on Holy Scripture
by Philip Graham Ryken, D.Phil.
Professor of Theology, President, Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois
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In his personal letters, Lewis urged his friends and other correspondents to follow this principle and submit to biblical authority. Here are a few examples:
“What we are committed to believing is whatever can be proved from Scripture.”7
“Yes, Pascal does directly contradict several passages in Scripture and must be wrong.”8
“I take it as a first principle that we must not interpret any one part of Scripture so that it contradicts other parts.” 9
In giving these exhortations, Lewis took both sides of a doctrinal equation: we believe what the Bible affirms, and we do not believe what the Bible denies. Furthermore, he insisted on accepting the unity and consistency of the Bible.
We see Lewis applying the principle of letting Scripture interpret Scripture to two of the doctrines he found it hardest to understand. One was the sovereignty of God over human suffering. In a letter offering spiritual counsel, he wrote:
The two things one must NOT do are (a) To believe, on the strength of Scripture or on any other evidence, that God is in any way evil. (In Him is no darkness at all.) (b) To wipe off the slate any passage which seems to show that He is. Behind that apparently shocking passage, be sure, there lurks some great truth which you don’t understand. If one ever does come to understand it, one will see that [He] is good and just and gracious in ways we never dreamed of. Till then, it must be just left on one side.10
Another example of Lewis’s submission to Holy Scripture is his affirmation of the doctrine of hell, simply on the grounds of biblical authority. In The Problem of Pain he wrote, “There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this, if it lay in my power. But it has the full support of Scripture and, specially, of Our Lord’s own words.”11
Lewis was far more concerned with what Scripture said than with what the scholars said. When one of his readers—who was tempted to come under the influence of modernist theology—wrote to express her doubts about the Virgin Birth, Lewis sent her back to Holy Scripture: “Your starting point about this doctrine will not, I think, be to collect the opinion of individual clergymen, but to read Matthew Chapter I and Luke I and II.”12 C.S. Lewis believed strongly that Christian doctrine should be derived from and surrendered to Holy Scripture.
The Bible as Literature
Another strength of Lewis’s approach to Scripture was his sensitive reading of each biblical text according to its literary form. Lewis read the Bible as literature decades before it became fashionable to do so. Not that he read the Bible merely as literature, of course. In fact, he was highly critical of any attempt to claim that the Bible had unique literary majesty apart from its sacred authorship and saving message. “Unless the religious claims of the Bible are again acknowledged,” Lewis wrote, “its literary claims will, I think, be given only ‘mouth honour’ and that decreasingly. For it is, through and through, a sacred book.”13
In reading the Bible as literature, Lewis was in his element. His primary calling was as an English professor, and in this he was virtually without peer. While at Oxford he wrote a famous volume on the sixteenth century for the Oxford History of English Literature, and in 1954 he was awarded the chair of Mediaeval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University.
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