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.

4 thoughts on “The Bible and inspiration

  1. Nick Gill

    When experience, church teaching, or personal emotions conflict with Scripture, I’m sticking with Scripture.

    I think that what you’re identifying here is something like, “When experience, church teaching, or personal emotions conflict with Scripture, what I trust that they’re really conflicting with is my understanding of Scripture.”

    Postmodernity should teach us to be rightly skeptical both of skepticism itself, as well as our own tendency to divinize our own intellect and experience. My mind is fallen as well as my morality, and neither has been wholly redeemed – thus Faith teaches me to trust God and keep studying and wrestling with the angel of revealed scripture until my disagreement or cognitive dissonance is resolved.

  2. Tim Archer Post author

    Nick, I think there are times when those things conflict with Scripture itself. That often happens when our understanding of Scripture is in conflict with the actual meaning of Scripture.

    There are also many times when our debate is not with Scripture itself but with how it is interpreted and applied. Many who rail against Paul are actually protesting a misapplication of Paul’s words.

    I believe in absolute truth. I also believe that fallible man is incapable of fully grasping that truth, that the best we can do is a constant striving after that truth.

  3. Nick Gill

    Agreed – Scripture rightly understood illuminates our understanding of our experiences and emotions, and should be a constant corrective to church doctrine.

  4. Vern

    And oneness, not a oneness of compromise, should guide us and give us pause if our understanding is out of step with others.

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