Tag Archives: Bible

The Bible and inspiration

Yesterday’s post reflects a concern I have, the observation that the church is increasingly de-emphasizing the role of the Bible and proportionately giving more weight to the voice of experience. There is a growing distrust in the human authors of the text; I’ve given plenty of time recently to that idea. The Bible is seen as a very human book; interpreters are free to embrace or reject each passage as they see fit.

As society clamors for religious experience outside of religious institutions, there is an increasing focus on God’s Word beyond Scripture itself; the Bible is seen as part and parcel of organized religion, so those dissatisfied with religion in general seek to find Jesus apart from the written word. This idea is often expressed as focusing on the red letters of the gospels above all else, thinking that they represent the purity of Jesus’ teachings.

Much of it comes down to our view of the Bible and our view of inspiration. If, for example, the apostle Peter was merely the N.T. Wright of his day, then we’re free to agree or disagree with what he says (though there seems to be greater hesitancy to disagree with Wright than to disagree with the biblical authors!). If the epistles are nothing more than a historical curiosity, preserved in a sort of textual museum, then we may read what they say and shake our heads in pity at the inadequacy of their understanding of Christianity.

I don’t believe in divine dictation; I recognize the humanity behind Scripture. But I also believe that God was at work in the production and preservation of the writings of early church authors; I believe that these men wrote God-breathed, Spirit-aided, Christ-honoring texts. Though not perfect men, I believe their writings reveal God’s words to us.

I believe in the unity of the teaching of Scripture. I don’t pit one author against another. I don’t see one book as a corrective to another book, nor one verse as fixing what another says. I do see differences, both differences in narrated details and differences in outlooks on doctrinal themes. But even when the biblical melody isn’t always sung in unison, I believe it’s sung in harmony.

I also believe that the church was guided by God in the selection of which books to keep. The purpose was not to preserve a historical record of the church’s beginnings; these writings were selected because of their ongoing value to the church. What Paul said to Ephesus was seen as being relevant to the church two hundred years later; I believe it’s still relevant two thousand years later.

This is a deep and complex subject, one that I can’t fully explore in 500 words. I’ll try and summarize with this: I firmly believe in the truth and inspiration of the Bible, even the uncomfortable parts. When experience, church teaching, or personal emotions conflict with Scripture, I’m sticking with Scripture.

When the Bible seems inadequate

Through the years, Christians have debated what authorities should be followed when it comes to religion. The Catholic church, among others, teaches that the traditions of the church hold equal weight with the Bible when deciding matters of faith. Most Protestant churches have insisted that the Bible alone is sufficient authority.

Many today are advocating a new source of authority, though few are open about it. This authority is experience, be it personal experience or observed experiences. Luke Timothy Johnson, an accomplished New Testament scholar who is a member of the Catholic church, expressed this new outlook on authority in a 2007 article published in Commonweal magazine. Let me quote an important passage:

I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to…

Johnson is more open than most when choosing experience over the biblical revelation. But his position is a common one, particularly when discussing two main issues: homosexuality and gender roles in the church. It boils down to this: if you can show that people are hurt, demeaned, frustrated by a certain doctrine, then that doctrine has to be changed in light of the experience of these people. It’s not a matter of going back and restudying something; it’s about elevating human experience over the written Word.

I don’t buy it. I’m not ready to give up on the Bible as a sufficient authority in matters of faith. Yes, we need to wrestle with how to apply today instructions that were given two thousand years ago. But let us not be found guilty of the chronological snobbery that leads us to believe that we in the twenty-first century understand God better than fellow Christians who lived centuries before.

Let us hear the voice of the hurting. But let’s offer them more than a sympathetic ear. Let’s offer them the wisdom of God’s Word speaking time-tested truths.

Please note, none of this is about unclear biblical teachings or questionable interpretations. Johnson is talking about looking biblical teachings square in the eye and telling them they are antiquated.

Hear another quote from Johnson:

I suggest, therefore, that the New Testament provides impressive support for our reliance on the experience of God in human lives—not in its commands, but in its narratives and in the very process by which it came into existence. In what way are we to take seriously the authority of Scripture? What I find most important of all is not the authority found in specific commands, which are fallible, conflicting, and often culturally conditioned, but rather the way Scripture creates the mind of Christ in its readers, authorizing them to reinterpret written texts in light of God’s Holy Spirit active in human lives.

Again, I don’t buy it. Let us be shaped by both narrative and command, led to live lives that stand in stark contrast to culture rather than following its every mutation. Ask the hard questions, do the deep study, but don’t give up on God’s Word. All of it. Let every jot and tittle shape our experiences and not vice versa. Let the Bible change how we live rather than daily life changing the Bible itself.

Sola scriptura. Let’s not be too quick to give up on that standard.

Rebekah watered the camels

01_ge_24_04_rgI forgot to share something that I heard from Tony Fernández a few weeks ago. He was preaching at a church in Chicago, and I was his translator. He was talking about the incident in Genesis 24 where Abraham sent his servant to find a wife for Isaac. The servant traveled back to Mesopotamia and asked God to help him in his search. He asked that a woman come to the spring where he sat and offer water to him and to his camels. Rebekah did just that, and the servant knew she was the one.

Tony pointed out that the servant had ten camels. They had just crossed the desert. Ten thirsty camels can easily drink more than 400 gallons of water.

Imagine how long it took Rebekah to draw that much water from a spring with a jar! It would have taken hours.

No wonder the servant knew that Rebekah was the one God had chosen. Not just anyone would do that. Thanks, Tony, for showing me something new in a story I’ve known most of my life.

Image courtesy of Sweet Publishing

Just how clueless were the biblical writers?

Apostle PualThe title to this post reflects a question that’s been growing in my mind as I read what many are writing about the Bible these days. Seemingly, the biblical writers were pretty clueless.

You know, like when the Pentateuch talks about God wanting people to offer sacrifice for sin. Fortunately, later writers (the prophets) corrected this misconception. There’s no sin between people and God. Just bad feelings and frustration. God didn’t want sacrifice. He just wants people to feel better.

And that talk about God being angry? That’s just ancient writers projecting their feelings into the text. God is love. God is forgiveness.

Hints that salvation is a privilege and not a right? Merely a reflection of the views of ancient people living near God’s people. God wants everyone to be happy and plans to save everyone. The apostles risked their lives preaching the gospel to let people know that they would be saved no matter what they did or believed.

And as clueless as the biblical writers were, I must be even more so. Because I just can’t wrap my mind around the rewrites of the Bible progressive Christianity offers. And I’m silly enough to think that inspiration counts for something. Go figure.

How the Bible’s format affects us

scrollsI’ve been sharing some thoughts and musings about the format of the Bible, the fact that we have it as one volume when it is in fact many books put together. Some of my thinking on this came from a conversation I had in Cuba.

A man who was visiting Cuba from another Latin American country shared with me some thoughts on sin. As he laid out his arguments, he pulled together passages from several different New Testament books. No regard for context. No regard for differing authorship. Sentences and phrases cut and pasted together to make an unusual point.

As you can probably tell, I was quite dismayed at this man’s approach. (He was there to do training) Later I got to thinking that people might be less inclined to build unbiblical arguments using biblical texts if the different biblical books were bound separately. Maybe we would have a better grasp of context, literary style, authorial intent, etc. if each book were a separate volume on our shelf.

Maybe, maybe not. As we ponder such things, we also have to think about the nature of inspiration… but that’s a discussion for another post.

Anyway, I’m back to the question I raised a few posts ago:

We talk about “Scripture,” viewing the writings as a singular work. One book. The Bible talks about scriptures, the holy writings, a group of books.

Doesn’t it seem like that affects how we view the contents?