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What is Scripture? Pursuing Smith's Question

Steven G. Smith

In What is Scripture? Wilfred Cantwell Smith called for a new conception of scripture that is fully historical and comparative and that anchors religious meaning in personal acts of relating to the divine rather than in texts as such. He also proposed thinking of scripture as a primary mode of human language alongside prose and poetry. This essay fills in Smith’s indeterminate conception by defining scripture as a sovereignly authoritative sacred book-like text or text collection. The essay also points out powers of directive language that reach a maximum in scripture so understood: addressing articulately the most basic question of how persons shall be guided, offering the most usefully comprehensive array of types of guidance, and sponsoring the richest interpretive discussion and most rewarding implementation of ultimate practical norms. In all these respects scripture plays a crucial role in the historic maturation of direction-setting that Habermas has called “the linguistification of the sacred.”

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