December 18, 2017

Does this help?: A simple statement about the purpose and inspiration of the Bible.

vantildog_talk.jpgIf you are concerned about my views on the Bible, please read this:

Setting aside general revelation (creation, nature) and experience, everything we know about the Good News of God in Jesus Christ, we know from the Bible.

In fact, it is entirely right to say that the Bible’s theme- its message- is the message of Salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

When I speak of the inspiration of the Bible, I am not usually talking about some general idea of the Bible’s truthfulness, but I am speaking about its truthfulness in presenting all things necessary for salvation and life in Christ. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism teaches:

Q. 2. What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him? A. The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.

Q. 3. What do the Scriptures principally teach? A. The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.

Now there are a number of theories of inspiration, but Christian confessions have not required that a specific theory of inspiration be endorsed beyond the result of that inspiration. The Second London Confession, for example, says

Therefore it pleased the Lord at sundry times and in divers manners to reveal himself, and to declare that his will unto his church; and afterward for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the church…to commit the same (i.e. himself and his will) wholly unto writing; which maketh the Holy Scriptures to be most necessary…The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelation of the Spirit, or traditions of men.

Even the New Hampshire Confession- which uses the word “perfect” to describe the Bible- CLEARLY teaches that Salvation and the principles or eternal judgement are the message of scripture.

We believe that the Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired, and is a perfect treasure of heavenly instruction; that it has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth without any mixture of error for its matter; that it reveals the principles by which God will judge us; and therefore is, and shall remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and opinions should be tried.

Therefore, I believe that confessional Christianity wisely focuses on the ultimate, final purpose of the Bible, and not on the mechanism used to achieve that result.

This is wise, because there will always be vast disagreement over the nature of the Biblical material, and what kind of books they are. This diversity of views has always been true, and will continue as the Bible is studied.

What must be noted, however, is that those who see, for example, the Gospels as exact reports of conversations and events, and those who see the Gospels as literary creations drawing portraits of Jesus for theological purposes, will both sit under the teaching of the Word, with open Bible and open hearts, listening for the Spirit to illuminate the Word so that Christ may be known, worshiped, obeyed and loved.

We may disagree on whether the Bible meant to tell us the age of the earth in scientific terms. We may disagree about dinosaurs on the ark. We may disagree over why there are two temple cleansings by Jesus at two different times in his ministry. We may disagree over whether there are multiple authors to Biblical books. We may disagree over whether all of Jesus’ exorcisms were demon possession rather than physical/mental conditions unknown at the time. We may disagree on these things and still say:

All we know about Salvation by grace through faith by Christ comes from the Bible. That is what I believe. I have a view on Genesis, and a view on Job and a view on the Gospels. My views are, as best I can understand it, in line with what I believe these books are, and what they were written to be. I want to understand these texts so I can clearly hear their message. But at the end of the process, I read the Bible as God’s Word to me about the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ. I come to scripture to know Jesus, and to hear the Word of my salvation.

Comments

  1. I just found your site and I love it. Keep up the good work.

    You wrote: “When I speak of the inspiration of the Bible, I am not usually talking about some general idea of the Bible’s truthfulness, but I am speaking about its truthfulness in presenting all things necessary for salvation and life in Christ.”

    How does one determine what the Bible indicates is necessary for salvation?

    I ask because there doesn’t seem to be a consenses on that point.

  2. Good comment. I would say this: There is remarkable agreement among all Christians on the Bible’s teaching on salvation. To play numbers, I think 90% of Christian teaching on the essentials of the Gospel is the same across the board. (Look at the Nicene Creed) In that remaining 10% are a lot of things, but we aren’t “inerrant” interpreters of scripture or the illumination of the Spirit.

    But if we look at a verse like John 3:16, or a text like Eph 2, or Hebrews 1:1-4, or John 1:1-18, most Christians can read it together and agree on what is being taught. Then comes the disagreements, but it isn’t on the major message.

  3. I had wanted to jump in on the initial inerrancy post, but the conversation spun out of control long before I could get in on the “fun”.

    What I wanted to ask there, and I will reiterate here, is what I think to be the core of the question of “inerrancy”. Sure, I recognize that there are literary genres in Scripture, and that precise scientific expression is not intended. But the whole question of “inerrancy”, in my mind, is this – is *everything* the Bible says about God, man, and reality, true?

    I draw the line in saying that there is nothing in the Bible that does not truly reflect reality. The universe is created by God at some starting point in time. That is clearly Genesis’ teaching. The Kingdom of David *is* the Kingdom of God, taken typologically. There is no conflict ultimately between Kings and Chronicles, taking the theological development of God’s revelation into account. Human beings are conceived in a state of depravity – so when God judged a nation, even their infants were fair game, as Psalm 137 (and other OT verses) states.

    If it could be proved that something the Bible said is true is *not* (especially the Resurrection), I would say with Paul, “Let us eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die”. God may speak in parables, types, and mysteries, but He does not lie to His people.

    All this to say, I don’t think it’s quite enough to say that the Bible is true *theologically* – because I do not draw a line between theology and any other ology.

  4. “I come to scripture to know Jesus, and to hear the Word of my salvation.”

    Amen.

    This is why, as a non-trinitarian, I regard my trinitarian brothers and sisters as such. I don’t believe an imposed, invented and political issue like the trinity should keep me from the joy of fellowship with others who have tasted the grace of Jesus Christ – our redeemer.

    Do you?

  5. I really appreciate your recent posts on inerrancy, and heartily agree. I am troubled by now important this idea of inerrancy is to many Christians. I suspect that at the heart of the issue is a misunderstanding of what it means to be “saved by faith” means–that we tend to misunderstand faith to be a matter right belief or correct doctrine rather than basic question of what we are about and who we live for.

    I think this gets at David Waynes intelligent critique, as well. Sure, we can describe doctrines that are not laid out in the Bible in so many words, but are ideas like the inerrancy, the trintity, or a personal relationship with Jesus really ESSENTIAL to salvation.

    Clanging bells, we argue over the historical and scientific meaning of passsages, deny contradictions are not in the Bible, that any fool can see, etc. I fear that we do tend to miss the point. The Bible brings us good news, not a manual on “How to spot and kill a heretic” (and if it does, the one killed as a heretic was … Jesus.)

    Again, many thanks for your insightful posts!

  6. “But at the end of the process, I read the Bible as God’s Word to me about the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ. I come to scripture to know Jesus, and to hear the Word of my salvation.”

    This is definitely where my beliefs rest when it comes to the Bible. I know this is unpopular, but I am pretty well done with the evangelical practice of using some arbitrary standard of “doctrinal purity” to determine who is part of the family and who isn’t. Ummm, isn’t that God’s decision based on the work of Christ rather than our decision based on what we think is right?

    I have an adopted son and three birth children. Guess what? My three birth children don’t get to decide whether my adopted son really is a part of the family based on how he looks, what he thinks, or how he acts. They are all quite young, and, although they get along well, there are probably times when they are pretty sure he doesn’t fit in. There are probably times when he thinks he doesn’t fit in. However, my wife and I traveled halfway around the world to bring him into our home. We love him, and He is just as much our child as any birth child is.

    And we’re just wicked humans. 🙂

  7. Peter Foxwell says:

    A major problem with any definition of innerancy is that one has to qualify it to death. What I mean is that in order to not reduce the Bible to a computer printout, we have to use words like “when interpreted in light of its genre, context, authorial intent, standards of the day” and so on. So, in the end, the definition is not the definition.

  8. “Sure, we can describe doctrines that are not laid out in the Bible in so many words, but are ideas like the inerrancy, the trintity, or a personal relationship with Jesus really ESSENTIAL to salvation.”

    “I know this is unpopular, but I am pretty well done with the evangelical practice of using some arbitrary standard of “doctrinal purity” to determine who is part of the family and who isn’t.”

    These statements hit the heart of my problem. What is ESSENTIAL to our salvation? Surely we cannot believe whatever we like. Neither can we re-interpret the Bible to please ourselves.

    Nor can we say “I believe in Jesus Christ.” So do the Moslems. Where to draw the line?

    If it is impossible to know what is *essential* to salvation, how are we to be saved?

    If it is possible to know what is *essential* to salvation, tell me what it is and why you are right.

    Thanks in advance for any input!

  9. James Aguilar says:

    Doesn’t the Bible say in Acts 16:31, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved — you and your household.”

    Some people like to deconstruct this and other verses in the Bible and ask, “Well, what does he mean by ‘believe?'” I’m inclined to think that the word ‘believe’ means what it is/was conventionally thought to mean — in this context, believe in Jesus AND that what he said was true, i.e. that he came to save you from your sin — else Paul would have used a different word.

    All of the other things are . . . perhaps tests by which you can know whether others are saved.

  10. Michael, I think you’ll enjoy this article by Moises Silva. I first came across it while writing my bachelor thesis on James Barr’s “Fundamentalism”. I am pleased it is now online: http://www.etsjets.org/jets/journal/41/41-1/41-1-pp003-016-JETS.pdf

  11. Benjamin N. says:

    Michael you’re a good guy, and you also seem to be a clever guy.
    Try reading Francis Schaefer’s Trilogy to see what is really at stake here.
    This is not a simple issue… but it is extremely important.
    I hope you can find some time in your busy schedule and read this book, God bless you.

  12. Michael,

    I enjoyed reading your thoughts. Here’s some thoughts on this I wrote today.

    We’re all quick to admit the church today is not perfect – it’s made up of flawed people who don’t always get it right. The same was so 100 years ago – 500 years ago – 1500 years ago – hell, it’s always been that way. The canon authors and those who canonized the bible are no exception.

    The Holy Spirit remains the same today too – still using flawed people to do beautiful and amazing things for God. But I doubt many people here would say that if the Holy Spirit inspired them to write a book that it would be flawless or inerrant. The canon authors wrote under the same Holy Spirit inspiration that the rest of us do… and if we look at their writings they never once make such a claim to inerrancy.

    Quite the opposite is true. James, a teacher/leader, goes on to say that, “Those of us who teach get it wrong just about every time we open our mouth – none of us are perfectly qualified to do this job.”

    During the assembly of the bible – there were some on the council who strongly objected to its canonization (closure). They argued that in doing so the church would force the work of the Holy Spirit into a book. I can only wonder how much of the dark ages of the church can be attributed to this act.

    I believe the bible is amazing and full of God inspired truth. I don’t believe it is complete. John finishes his gospel by saying, “There are so many other things Jesus did. If they were all written down, each of them, one by one, I can’t imagine a world big enough to hold such a library of books.”

    And indeed – many books have been written about what the Lord has done – and people are still writing books about what He is doing today. I believe some of them are as equally inspired by God as the canonized books of the bible are. But it takes discernment and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit to be able to distinguish what is and what is not of God.

    Some say that the idea of an open bible is very dangerous. But I find it less dangerous than excluding the last 1500 years of God inspired text simply because a divided council deemed it unworthy.