Divine Scripture in Human Understanding

If you’re looking for information related to Divine Scripture in Human Understanding: A Systematic Theology of the Christian Bible (University of Notre Dame Press, hbk 2019, pbk 2022), you’ve come to the right place!

You can purchase it at the University of Notre Dame webpage. Use the code 14FF20 at checkout to get 20% off.

Or at amazon, too.

There are links to excerpts, interviews and podcasts, and reviews below.


The Englewood Review of Books has made an excerpt from chapter one, “Scripture at the Level of our Times,” and part of chapter two “Historical Precedents” available.

An excerpt from chapter six is published at Church Life Journal as “The Bible Isn’t Primarily a History Book.”

Podcasts and Other Interviews:

Matthew Bates and I discussed the book at OnScript. Matt wrote the following for his OnScript quip: “If we are to live in light of Scripture, it is imperative to discern what it is and how it functions. In Divine Scripture in Human Understanding, Joseph Gordon answers essential meta questions about the Bible, convincingly locating Scripture in the redemptive economy of the three-in-one God. This is a gift to the church.”

I had a fun conversation with Pete Enns and Jared Byas about inspiration and other topics from Divine Scripture at The Bible for Normal People.

I discussed the “systematic” nature of Divine Scripture with my good friends Ryan Hemmer, Jonathan Heaps, and Robin Boere at Systematically.

Dan McClain and I talked about the book with friends at Dan’s #askatheologian.

Jens Nelson and Lukas Stock had me on their Doxology Podcast to talk about the book.

I had a lovely conversation about the book with Charles Hughes-Huff at the Particular Good Podcast, hosted by St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry.

Amazon and Goodreads Reviews:

Check out the amazon reviews of the book here and goodreads reviews here. Some highlights:

“It’s well-written thought-provoking, but it’s not for the faint of heart!” —Jay Merrill

“This will serve as my go-to academic level systematic theology of scripture for recommending.” —Jeremy

“[I]f you take the study of Christian scripture seriously, Gordon’s book must be on your reading list.” —Rob O’Lynn

“Gordon is a wise teacher. . . . [This book is] an ecumenical treasure.” —Traci Rhodes

“Gordon offers an excellent theological structure for situating Biblical studies within Christian faith. Really appreciated his willingness to engage with the realities of historical criticism, and his ideas for moving forward. I’ll reference this for a long time.” —Jonah Steele

“Dr. Gordon’s book is admirably clear, impressively wide-ranging in its sources and interlocutors, intellectually sophisticated, and theologically rich. It is a useful tool in discipling Christian engagement with scripture. There are treasures, here: philosophical, theological, historical, pastoral, and spiritual. Worth every penny and every minute.” —Timothy L. Hahn

“This book is extraordinary and uniquely important. Very few books related to this topic are this profound AND accessible. Joseph Gordon has written a masterpiece. (And don’t be intimidated by the final page count, because half the book is endnotes.)” —Emunah

“Gordon’s Divine Scripture in Human Understanding addresses what is a neglected question for some students of scripture: what is the Christian Bible? The book is impressive in scope and sophistication, and a very important contribution to the theology of Christian scripture. It deserves attention from parishioners, seminarians, as well as advanced students of scripture.” —Matthew Tapie

“Dense, tightly argued, and exceedingly clear. Extensive attention and description to method is helpful. . . . Well worth the read for a stimulating and challenging exploration into the nature of humanity, the economic work of the Trinity, and the Spirit-inspired Scriptures that mediate their meaning to us.” —Lukas Stock

Syndicate Symposium:

Roberto J. De La Noval has curated a Syndicate Symposium on the book, with responses by John Behr, Bo Lim, Angela Parker, Ephraim Radner, and Olivier-Thomas Venard. Interested readers should make note of the significant questions and critiques each interlocutor raises about the book and my responses. Each offered gracious praise for the volume as well, with some highlights below:

“‘Professor, why hasn’t anyone updated the Bible yet?’ A single question can lay bare the concerns and puzzlement of the spirit of an age. This was certainly true of the question put to me by my beginning theology student last year. Implicit in my student’s question was a host of others that naturally arise for people today who encounter the Christian doctrine of Scripture’s divine inspiration and origin. . . . It is this complex of questions that Joseph K. Gordon’s systematic theology of the Bible, Divine Scripture in Human Understanding, addresses with such energy, depth, and care.” —Robert J. De La Noval, Assistant Professor of Theology at Mount St. Mary’s University

“Joseph Gordon has offered us what he describes as ‘a constructive systematic account of the nature and purpose of Christian Scripture that articulates the intelligibility of Scripture and locates it within the work of the Triune God in history and within human cultural history'(8). The result is indeed a broad and comprehensive account of the intelligibility of the Bible, ranging from an analysis of the rule of faith in the early Church and the role that such a rule plays within our contemporary understanding of Scripture and its interpretation, to a philosophical and theological anthropology that can adequately account for our own engagement and the telos to which this leads, as well as the changing shape of the material realia in which Scripture has been embodied throughout history, for this cannot be separated from how we understand it to be the Word of God inspired by the Holy Spirit. Through all of this, and more, Scripture is located in the broadest possible framework, to show how it “serves as a useful and virtually indispensable instrument through which the Triune God accomplishes God’s work in history, both in presenting and testifying to that work and through effecting that work in its readers and hearers” (30). The scope of the work is impressive. Particularly so is its recognition, indicated in the title, that a full account of “human understanding” is needed to be able to give any adequate account of what “divine Scripture” might be, something that is all too often neglected in treatments of Scripture and its interpretation. . . . It is within a Lonerganian understanding of human self-transcendence, meaning, and language, experienced within the conditions of sin and finitude that Gordon articulates—clearly—the themes of human subjectivity and authenticity (113–66). Equally important is the well-known point, but one also often neglected in systematic reflections on Scripture, that the Bible is not simply a datum, but the result of innumerable vagaries in the work of scribes, scholars, redactors, compilers in diverse historical and geographical contexts. . . .” —Rev. John Behr, Regius Professor of Humanity at University of Aberdeen

Excerpts from journal reviews:

“This is a book of real significance, bestriding as it does two rather different worlds. There has arisen a tendency for a scholarly standoff between critical study of the Christian Scriptures and a so-called theological approach to biblical studies, often underpinned by Barthian assumptions. Joseph Gordon’s book recognizes this shift and tackles the underlying issues head-on. He asserts, throughout a fairly intense argument, that plurality within the canon is a given that cannot somehow be filtered off or avoided by harmonization or by creating a form of biblical theology popular two generations ago. . . . [T]his book breaks creative new ground.” —Rt. Rev. Stephen Platten, The Living Church

“Gordon has constructed a systematic theology of Scripture that addresses the challenges that interpretive pluralism and the material reality of the text pose to Scripture’s use in the church. . . . Biblical scholars and theologians alike will find Gordon’s approach of seeing everything, from the human authors and readers of Scripture to the nature and purpose of Scripture itself, through the lens of systematic theology as a useful addition to the scholarly conversation about Scripture. His approach displays the value of locating every argument and interpretive strategy within a larger theological system.” —Seth Heringer, Journal of Theological Interpretation

“This book is a rich meditation on the theology of scripture. Its thoroughness, variety of interlocutors, clarity of expression, and irenic results make it suitable for undergraduate and graduate courses in doctrine or biblical interpretation. The substantive contributions it makes to the constructive articulation of scripture make this rewarding reading for systematic theologians and biblical scholars as well.” —Jonathan Platter, Reviews in Religion and Theology

“Erudite and brimming with ethical sensitivity, Gordon’s Divine Scripture in Human Understanding develops a systematic theology to help contemporary readers better understand the nature and purpose of scripture, how it shapes the Christian imagination, and how it gives rise to new understandings of God’s saving work in human history. . . . Although Gordon repeatedly stresses the indefinite article in his book’s title, insisting that his work represents merely a systematic theology of scripture, this act of humility sells his work short. For those seeking to reconcile a Christian view of holy writ with contemporary advances in philosophy and science, or with the seemingly infinite number of methods and interpretations that have only multiplied with the advent of digital communication, Divine Scripture is quite possibly the most important work on the subject in decades.” —Joshua Smith, Reading Religion

“Joseph Gordon here undertakes the demanding task of setting out a detailed account of a Christian doctrine of Scripture in the fullest context of systematic theology. Through six closely-reasoned chapters, he situates Scripture with relation to formal doctrinal teachings, to the manifest material properties of Bibles, to questions of meaning, to the development of doctrine, to ascribing divine characteristics to material entities—to any number of other relevant topics. . . . [A] commendable achievement. . . . Gordon’s project brings a markedly fresh perspective to problems that sometimes seem as though they have been done to death.” —A. K. M. Adam, Modern Theology

“[T]his volume reflects the impressive depth and breadth of Gordon’s reading. The great strength of this volume is synthetic, systematic pulling together of various positions and arguments into a systematic theology of scripture. . . . [Divine Scripture in Human Understanding] does extraordinarily important synthetic work.”  —Steven E. Fowl, Scottish Journal of Theology

Divine Scripture in Human Understanding delivers on its promise. It is, in fact, a systematic theology of the Christian Bible in Lonergan’s refined sense of systematics. It advances multiple conversations at the same time (biblical studies, systematic theology, hermeneutics, patristics, and even studies of Henri de Lubac . . .). It is a major contribution to Lonergan studies.” —Ryan Hemmer, The Lonergan Review

“Joseph Gordon’s first book . . . achieves something truly impressive. For Divine Scripture in Human Understanding is straightaway a major contribution to the fields of biblical interpretation and the doctrine of Scripture, combining influences and areas of research in novel and sometimes unique ways.” —Brad East, Anglican Theological Review

“On the whole, Gordon makes an important contribution in this work to thinking about questions of revelation as well as to Lonergan studies. As a systematic theology of the Bible, it is impressive precisely because it makes clear systematic arguments. Indeed, the work proceeds outward from the Bible to articulate a theology of God, human beings, and God’s self-communication to people through revelation.” —Daniel Rober, Horizons

“Gordon’s work is successful in what it sets out to do. It is technically precise, extensively researched, and gracious in tone. . . . [A] tremendous resource for anyone wanting to use this text as a springboard into the distinct historical, textual, and theological foci that Gordon brings together with this book. . . . Gordon [writes] with calm self-awareness and with a keen eye to transcendent theological questions. . . . Gordon does not shy away from the difficulties and complexities of Scripture but faces them squarely with the transcendent purpose of God in mind as well. His book models the way that the theologian can successfully integrate insights from history and historical-critical scholarship into a systematic theology.” —Cole William Hartin, Journal of Anglican Studies

“This wide-ranging, informative, and readable study . . . offers the reader ‘a systematic theology of the Christian Bible,’ intended to assist contemporary Christians in the ‘perennial challenges’ of ‘[d]etermining the function and role of Scripture in Christian life and thought and articulating the precise parameters of interpretation of the Bible.’” —Jeffrey Peterson, Christian Studies

“The merits of Gordon’s project are profuse and fruitful for both scholars who identify in
the traditional categories of Biblical studies and systematic theology. The most commanding element of Gordon’s work is his insistence upon the relationship between Scripture and the hermeneutical act.” —Patrick Nolin, Toronto Journal of Theology

“Due to the trenchant work displayed by Gordon, his theology of Scripture is required reading for any scholar doing work on the nature and purpose of Holy Writ and it is worth wrestling through and interacting with for the serious student of theologies of Scripture.” —Thomas Haviland-Pabst, Criswell Theological Review

“Gordon uses a wide range of sources from the patristic thinkers to the present day to make arguments that will resonate with and challenge readers across denominational lines. . . . Scholars of systematic theology and biblical studies will find this book essential reading for the ways that it speaks to both theological doctrines about the nature of Scripture, and the practical implication of these beliefs on those who read Scripture in faith.” —Aaron Klink, Religious Studies Review

“[It] is possible that this is the book that we need at just this time, helping us to read the Bible with both learning and integrity[.] . . . This is a book to be read by anyone who has an interest in knowing how to read the Bible in the context of religious faith.” —Nicholas King, The Heythrop Journal

“[Divine Scripture in Human Understanding] is much more than a book on doctrines surrounding Scripture (unity, authority, inspiration, inerrancy, etc.), although its interventions there are valuable. A systematic theology of Scripture demands, Gordon says, that Scripture be understood within a comprehensive vision of the divine economy (a “rule of faith”), a theological anthropology, and detailed knowledge of the Bible’s material history. Tall orders each, but Gordon delivers on all three, giving both general systematic accounts of admirable sweep and adjudications on many particular questions. . . . [R]ichly compendious . . . deep, wide, and rewarding” —Matthew Z. Vale, Nova et Vetera

“[T]his book and its author will likely play a role in future explanation of the nature of Scripture.” —Jordan Steffaniak, Journal of Biblical and Theological Studies

“The truth, unity, and authority of Christian Scripture . . . are not so much located in the words on the page as much as in the reality of the Triune God at work in human history to which Christian Scripture bears witness and by which the res is mediated. This, essentially, gives space for human error, diversity, transmission processes (which is a significant contribution of the book’), and ambiguity within Christian Scripture while at the same time confessing its message is infallible and the economic work of the Trinity is real and actual. . . . Gordon achieves his goal of offering a systematic theology of the Christian Bible that takes account of both its divine and human dimensions.” —John Mark Hicks, Stone-Campbell Journal

Advance praise blurbs for the hardcover:

Divine Scripture in Human Understanding has the potential to greatly aid the ways in which Scripture is used and understood in theological debate, especially in those communities that are more biblically oriented. Its sophisticated discussion of the actual history of Scripture within an overall context of divine providence undoes any attempt at fundamentalism. The book is accessible to nonspecialists, but will be of greater value to those who are seeking professionally to understand their own performance in relation to questions such as ‘What do we mean by biblical theology?’ and ‘Is biblical theology just exegesis?’” —Neil Ormerod, Sydney College of Divinity

“‘Christians need to learn how to read, hear, and meditate on Scripture in a Christian manner.’ This substantial and important book spells this out, in the form of a systematic theology of the Bible, in dialogue with the church fathers and with Bernard Lonergan and Henri de Lubac. It sets Scripture in a trinitarian context and makes a strong case for its inspiration and authority.” —John Barton, Oriel and Laing Professor Emeritus of the Interpretation of Holy Scripture, University of Oxford

“Joseph K. Gordon’s approach to the perennial question for Christians of how to read Scripture—how, that is, to understand its contents, its modes of discourse, its spiritual authority, and its historical contingencies in the light of theological tradition and practice—is subtle, deft, and penetrating. The result, moreover, is a volume at once remarkably comprehensive and delightfully concise. Students of theology will profit from it immensely, but so will accomplished masters of the craft.” —David Bentley Hart, University of Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study

“This remarkable book offers a thoroughly trinitarian approach to a systematic theology of Holy Scripture, rooting it in the rule of faith, in constructive appropriation of premodern understandings of Scripture to address postmodern paradoxes, and in absolute honesty about modern historical consciousness and awareness of the contingencies of textual transmission, of biblical diversity, and of linguistic indeterminacy. It affirms that, as the useful instrument of divine pedagogy, Scripture proves capable of perennially transforming human lives. Thus what we have here is a wonderful corrective to bibliolatry which substantiates the indispensable and vital connection between the Word of God incarnate and the Word of God inscribed.” —Frances M. Young, Edward Cadbury Professor Emerita of Theology, University of Birmingham

“Joseph Gordon offers a sophisticated, creative, and compelling account of the human-divine character of Scripture, and of Scripture’s instrumental role in the divine economy of human transformation for participation in the life of the Triune God. Gordon’s treatments of the rule of faith as hermeneutical necessity, the soul (reinterpreted for our context) as the subject of transformation, and the theological significance of the Bible’s concrete, diverse instantiations inform his overall project in fresh ways. This is an important volume that deserves the careful attention of both biblical scholars and theologians.” —Michael J. Gorman, Raymond E. Brown Professor of Biblical Studies and Theology, St. Mary’s Seminary & University

“God may not have a context, but Scripture—God’s inscripturated word—certainly does, and the major contribution of Gordon’s study lies in its careful unpacking of the role that various historical contexts have on its authors’ and readers’ categories of understanding. As an added bonus, Divine Scripture in Human Understanding contains one of the clearest descriptions of Bernard Lonergan’s unique approach to theology’s task of faith seeking textual and traditioned understanding for today that I have yet come across.” —Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Research Professor of Systematic Theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

Media/Events Featuring Divine Scripture in Human Understanding

Book Launch Celebration at the Boston College School of Ministry, April 26, 2019.
“A Conversation About the Authority of Scripture,” featuring Divine Scripture and Mark Hamilton’s A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament (Oxford, 2018) at the 2017 Stone-Campbell Journal SBL Reception, November 22, 2019.
A lecture/luncheon on the book hosted by Emmanuel Christian Seminary at Milligan University, March 4, 2020.
Promotional Poster for “Traditioning Sources for Contemporary Theological Engagement,” the Graduate Conference of the Toronto School of Theology Graduated Student Association, where I was the keynote speaker, June 11, 2021.
Promotional Graphic for the paperback prepared by University of Notre Dame Press
A flyer for the 2022 Fall Lonergan Lecture at the Center for Catholic Studies at Seton Hall University.
Flyer from the book signing event at the Annual Society of Biblical Literature American Academy of Religion conference in Denver, Colorado, on November 20, 2022.

At the University of Notre Dame Press booth at SBL/AAR November 20, 2022 just before the book signing session.