I’d love to hear how you guys view the Bible.
What is it? The traditional view is that God spoke explicitly through Biblical authors, making Scripture the tangible Word of God.
Do you agree? Or do you disagree with the concept of inerrancy? Do you think the Bible is simply a collection of observations?
Or is it something in between?
Let me know!
It is a collection of books written by different authors who were led by God to put into words what God desires for us to know about him, and to know about ourselves.
The book is not meant to be scientific nor even a history book (though there is history.) it is in it’s basic form a revelation of God. This is why Jesus is called the Word of God – he is the full revelation of the nature and character of God.
The Bible is a collection of texts that reveal to us who God is, what God is like and how we are to engage Him and one another.
Each text is written in a cultural context and a historical context. Each writer wrote in his own voice and with his limited knowledge of nature. Yet these apparent inaccuracies do not degrade from the Bible if the Bible is seen for what I just described it to be. Again God did not give the Scriptures so we can know if the world is flat or not, nor did he give us the Scriptures so, we can argue over the age of the earth. The Bible is His revelation to us concerning himself, us, and how we engage him and one another.
The Bible is a man-made document from beginning to end. It is written, compiled and published by MAN. It was man’s idea and man’s desire that bore it. Firstly, our desire to communicate both truth (as the authors understood it) and wonder to future generations, and then our need to compile and store important “data” which led to it’s widescale publication. The Bible was never prophesied about or spoken about as a whole. “Scripture” refers to ANY writing, although you CAN narrow it down to at MOST any writing about God and His interactions with man (as they saw/witnessed them).
There is no other published written work that is given the “free pass” for truth that the Bible is, and that has been to our detriment. ANY other book is read with discernment and a critical eye, but the Bible continues to be declared truth and free from ANY error, supposedly dictated/directed by the hand of God Himself, though it doesn’t even make that claim about itself. We have twisted the meaning of words like “inspiration” and “God breathed” far beyond both their ancient and modern meanings in order to make them FIT with the inerrant way of viewing the Bible.
The Bible is NOT a book of TRUTH. It is a book describing man’s attempts to understand God, and God’s answer to that struggle through the person of Jesus. The Spirit is to be our teacher and guide into all truth, and although He most surely can and most likely WILL use the Bible in that endeavor, He doesn’t HAVE to. It is a RESOURCE for Him (and for us), and POINTS us TOWARDS the truth, like an introductory letter, but it cannot be read like a history book or instruction manual for life. Doing so is a disservice to the authors AND to the Spirit. It sets up the Bible as an idol. An any idol, no matter how good it APPEARS, is going to lead us AWAY from the way, truth and life that is Jesus, just like it did to the Jewish religious leaders of His time.
It’s time to put the Bible back where it belongs, UNDER the “authority” of both Jesus and the Spirit (who are one and the same anyway), and read it with discernment and much study of both language, culture and audience. It is only then that it’s multi-vocal nature is celebrated and it can shine for what it is, rather than for what we might WANT it to be.
I appreciate the approach that the first two posts took in regards to context and truth. I’m going to take a bit of a different approach to the Bible, since those two stole my thunder There’s so much that can be said, but I’m going to stick with looking at Paul’s words in 2 Timothy regarding Scripture.
The go to passage for most Christians when Biblical inerrancy is discussed is 2 Timothy 3:16, which states “All Scripture is breathed by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” I have often heard this passage referenced to prove that the Bible is perfect. The logic seems to go “God is perfect, God breathed out Scripture, therefore Scripture is perfect.” However, that view seems to miss out 2 Timothy 3:16 is actually about. Before I dive into my interpretation on 2 Timothy 3:16, I want to take a step back to look at the standards we hold the Bible to.
I feel that it is crucial to ask ourselves the question “What is the purpose of the Bible?” Answering this question is vital, because as we discover what the Bible was meant to do we also can discover what it was not meant to do. If the Bible is seen as being a perfect document in every regard and understood literally, that puts a lot of people in a very dangerous position. What if science comes out with a hypothesis that presents a different case than the Bible? A faith crisis can easily occur in that setting and it creates a false dichotomy. The purpose of the Bible was not to be empirically accurate in every possible way. When held to certain standards, the Bible fails. I believe that the Bible fails many of the standards that a traditional view of inerrancy would wish to put on it. I personally have felt let down by the so-called “inerrancy” of Scripture. What if the problem is not the Bible, but the measuring stick we use? So if the Bible is a failure when held to some standards, under what standards is it a success, is it profitable?
Let’s jump back to 2 Timothy now. I believe that the conversation actually needs to start at 3:14-15, rather than just 3:16-17. Paul is writing to Timothy, a companion who Paul sees as his own son, and encouraging him in what could possibly be the last time the two of them can talk to each other. In 3:14-15 Paul points Timothy towards what he calls the “sacred writings” and then goes on to tell Timothy (and us) exactly what those sacred writings are good for. Paul states of the sacred writing that they “are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ” (3:15). Not that they “are able to tell you everything about the world” or that they “are Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth” or that they “are the most perfect document in human history.” They are able to make Timothy (and us) wise in regard to our salvation in the person of Jesus Christ. This same approach, that Scripture’s purpose is to point towards Christ is repeated all throughout the NT. I won’t point to all of the places that this occurs, as other theologians have done that quite a bit and expanded on the idea that the Bible is meant to be read “backwards”, in light of the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Looking now at 3:16-17 we can also see another aspect of what the purpose of Scripture is. This aspect is clearly outlined in 3:17: “that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” The Bible is meant to prompt action. It’s designed to make us move, not to give us an answer book or cheat sheet for life. There are many things that Bible simply does not give us the answers for. It points to Jesus and inspires us to be prepared and ready for any kind of good work that is called of us. I’d say that it does a pretty fine job of that. Maybe it’s not inerrant in a traditional sense, but it fulfills it’s given duty: to point mankind to salvation in Jesus and to good works. The Bible succeeds at it’s mission, which is to prepare us and equip us for the mission of God, salvation in Jesus Christ.
I’d also suggest taking a look at Greg Boyd’s recent work on cruciform hermeneutics that he has been doing. He’s wrestled with this question of inerrancy quite a bit. Christopher Wright is another recommended author in terms of the mission of God and how the Bible fits into that.
One question I have about the Bible being inerrant has to do with the way certain letters or documents came to be considered Scripture. If anyone has any thoughts on that I’d love to hear those, especially in regards to how the people of Israel and the early church saw their sacred writings and decided what was sacred writing and what wasn’t.
Hey so my good friend just finished writing a thesis on this topic. He wrote specifically about the relation of Genesis to the scientific world. If you would be interested in reading it, shoot me an email firstname.lastname@example.org. Anyways, my personal convictions about the bible are similar.
I think that the bible cannot be fully understood with a strictly Western mindset. The bible was written to an ancient people, in an ancient culture, who had ancient views about the universe. It is absurd then, for a Westerner to force his presuppositions about science and the universe on the text, as it is not a scientific document.
It must also be understood that the bible is not simply one big book, and instead, is a multitude of stories, songs, and poetry. The bible is not all one type of literature, and instead it contains various kinds that all assist the author in communicating his point. The bible should not be read like a Westerner, and instead should be read with the mindset of a Near Eastern person.
When people bring up the concept of inerrancy, the question of “Inerrant to whom?” must be asked. To an ancient person, the Bible’s claims about science are not errant, but to a 21st century scientist, they are. Does this discredit the bible? I would say no. Simply because the Bible was written by ancient people does not mean it should be ignored.
To me, the bible is a history of Israel, a people who rebel, who fight, who run from their God, from YAHWEH, and from their calling. The revelation of Jesus in the world however, is another call, another chance at redeeming the world and making it everything God wants it to be. Jesus breaks the borders between Israel and the rest of the world, and invites all who wish to join him on his mission to join the Church, Christ’s bride, the organization that will finally bring order and Jesus’s kingdom reign on earth.
I think it’s important to have a biblical understanding of what exactly truth is. And when I say that I mean that in reference to the two types of thinking that we have to wrestle with: this western, platonic, gecko-roman mind that we all come equipped with, and an ancient, eastern, biblical understanding about how one thinks.
To a westerner, truth is something that is static and defined. It just is. It comes from our ability to use words to make definitions and through such makes truth concrete. Until of course, we find something that makes that previously concrete truth not so true, in which case we have to pick it up and go place it somewhere else. If you do that for a few thousand years your western understanding might start viewing truth as relative.
The eastern view of truth is that it’s something that’s unfolding. It’s not relative, but it starts in a place, and from there it grows. The conversation starts getting a little bit bigger. We get from in Leviticus saying “do not Murder” to in the Gospel of John, where it’s written “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”
I think this is an important distinction because a lot of times I hear the conversation being something along the lines of “well it seems like the God of the Old Testament is a little more hacked off than the God of the New Testament” or “This passage in Deuteronomy 21 is horrendous and it’s stuff like this that makes me despise religion”
I would suggest that even though the idea of inerrancy might be a little too western to try to fit into a biblical context, it’s important to recognize the history that the Bible is intertwined with and how Powerful and God-Breathed and appropriate it appeared in that context. Take Deuteronomy 21:
“When you go to war against your enemies and the Lord your God delivers them into your hands and you take captives, if you notice among the captives a beautiful woman and are attracted to her, you may take her as your wife. Bring her into your home and have her shave her head, trim her nails and put aside the clothes she was wearing when captured. After she has lived in your house and mourned her father and mother for a full month, then you may go to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife. If you are not pleased with her, let her go wherever she wishes. You must not sell her or treat her as a slave, since you have dishonored her.”
I honestly doubt someone reading that for the first time is going to hear the gospel in that. Or any material remotely close to it. But it’s important to understand that in the patriarchal culture that we’re referring to in Deuteronomy, it was custom that when a Nation comes and conquers another, the victors always claimed EVERYTHING as property. From the gold to the jewels to the livestock all the way to the men and women themselves. And without that understanding, we would miss that Deuteronomy 21 is suggesting something madly progressive: The conquered are still human beings made in the image, and deserve to be at least treated as such. That woman you’re desiring? She may be conquered but she’s still human. And you should at least give her respect and let her mourn.
Consider it this way: in our education system why don’t we just skip from 4th grade multiplication to multivariable calculus?
I think that the answer to this question is intertwined with what we’re looking at here in scripture. There’s an arch. We’re moving forward. We need to get from being asked to just stop killing each other to “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” and I don’t think that this process can happen overnight.
I would suggest that God knows that he needs to take us by the hand and guide us every step of the way. And sure the journey is a little bloody at sometimes. But in the end we see Heaven crashing into Earth and God’s plan for creation lived out.