October 19, 2017

Rob Grayson: The Bible Clearly Says

cat bible

Over the past year or so, Facebook has become a place of wide-ranging theological discussion for me. Of course, as a medium for serious, in-depth discussion, it has its disadvantages and limitations; but thanks to others of like mind, I’ve found it to be predominantly a source of life and stimulation.

Being active in theological debate on Facebook has taught me a lot, especially about things like taking time to think before speaking, giving others the benefit of the doubt and working hard to communicate clearly and unambiguously. It’s also brought to my attention certain recurring arguments that many Christians regularly trot out in defence of whatever position they’re pushing, one of which I’d like to briefly highlight today. And hopefully demolish.

If I had a pound for every time in the last year that I’ve heard or seen someone say “But the Bible clearly says…”, I’d be well on the way to funding a more generous pension for my later years.

I have a number of issues with arguments beginning “The Bible clearly says…”.

Franzie-reading-BibleFirst, it is not borne out by two thousand years of history. If the Bible clearly said anything much at all, surely the world would not now have something like forty thousand Christian denominations, many of which claim to have the correct interpretation of scripture. Similarly, if the Bible was anything like as clear as this statement claims, there would have been no need for the academic study of theology and the accompanying theological debate that has persisted through twenty centuries and shows little sign of abating even today. This alone ought to be enough to kick “The Bible clearly says…” into touch as a credible argument for anything.

Second, as Brian Zahnd quipped in the recent much-discussed “Monster God” debate, you can make the Bible stand up and dance a jig if you want to. In other words, the Bible contains enough seemingly contradictory statements that you can pluck out a verse here and there and use it to support pretty much any position you want to. For example, there’s no shortage of passages in the Old Testament that could be used to support the argument, “The Bible clearly says that ethnic cleansing is perfectly acceptable”. Need I say more?

Third, and perhaps most important, no text says anything without some degree of ambiguity. Whether we’re aware of it or not, we all interpret every single thing we read. Let me try to explain.

Suppose you open up a learn-to-read book for children, and read the first sentence: “The cat sat on the mat”. Simple enough at first reading, right? Not too much ambiguity here, is there?

Well…

What we can say with certainty after reading this sentence is that a cat sat on a mat. To conclude anything more than that requires interpretation. For example, we are told nothing about the colour, gender, age or size of the cat. Similarly, the size, type, material and placement of the mat are left to our imagination. And did the cat just sit on the mat once, and if so, for how long? Or was it in the habit of doing so? Why did it sit there? And when did all of this feline mat occupation occur?

To answer any of these questions requires us to interpret the text. I’m sure most people would be able to grasp this without much difficulty. What’s harder to see is that we interpret all the time without even being aware that we’re doing it.

When you read the sentence “The cat sat on the mat”, chances are that you immediately form a mental image of a cat sat on a mat. The cat you imagine will be of a certain size, age, gender, colour and disposition, and the mat will be in a certain more or less specific location. A number of factors determine how you imagine the scene, including but not limited to your personal experience with and attitude toward cats; other books, pictures or TV shows in which you have seen cats sitting on mats; your favourite or least favourite types of cats and mats…; and even the mood you happen to be in at the time.

You may feel that a cat on a mat is rather a facile example to use, but hopefully you can see the point I’m trying to make.

When we read any text, be it a novel, a newspaper, a blog post or the Bible, there’s a very small amount of information that is known and understood with absolute certainty. On the other hand, there’s a very large amount of information that is open to interpretation. It follows that our understanding of a text is based largely on our personal interpretation of that text.

cat bible 2As I’ve hinted already with my admittedly rather silly feline example, our interpretation of any given biblical text is shaped by many factors. These include, but are not limited to, age, socio-economic background, race, educational level, church background, personality type, personal experience, peer group influences and current life circumstances. All of these forces and more work together to form and guide our personal interpretation in ways that we are largely unaware of.

So when, in defence of your favourite theological hobby horse, you exclaim “But the Bible clearly says…!”, what you’re really saying is “But my interpretation of the Bible clearly says…!”. To put it another way, it would be better to say, “For someone with my specific and exact personal, socio-economic, political, emotional and religious history, and with the exact same personality type, memories and value system as me, the Bible clearly says…”

By now you hopefully realise that the only person who ticks all those boxes is you. Your interpretation of the Bible is unique to you. It may coincide with the interpretation of lesser or greater numbers of other people, but ultimately it’s yours, shaped by your own unique set of formative influences.

It follows from all this – and my experience tends to bear this out – that people who routinely base their arguments on what the Bible “clearly” says often feel that they have a direct line to the Holy Spirit and have been given the one and only valid interpretation of Holy Scripture. To which my answer is, what about all the other good and holy men and women down the centuries – many of whom have studied, meditated and sacrificed much more than you or I in their quest to know God and understand the Bible – who have “received” an inspired interpretation that differs from yours?

In closing, then, let me issue a plea: if, in defending your particular theological understanding, you wish to draw on the Bible, please don’t preface your argument with “The Bible clearly says”. If you do, what you’re really saying is “I’m right and you’re wrong”. Instead, do me the courtesy of saying what you think the Bible means by what it says, and why you think what it says should be interpreted in that particular fashion. Perhaps then we can have a healthy conversation from which we might both learn something.

* * *

Rob blogs at Faith Meets World.

Comments

  1. Bravo – you are ‘I think’ right on

  2. Vega Magnus says:

    The pastor of the church I irregularly attended over a few years drops “The Bible clearly says” at least once in every sermon. It’s typically in pretty harmless contexts, but sometimes it is used in REALLY questionable scenarios. A good way to shut down discussion, isn’t it? Any disagreement is disagreeing with God, giving the ManaGawd serious power.

    • Yes: when in the mouth of an authority figure like a minister/pastor or preacher, “the Bible clearly says” can often be code for “This is how it is and don’t you dare disagree!”

      • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

        I think both of you nailed it. “The Bible clearly says” is more often a rhetorical device than any substantive claim.

    • George Christiansen says:

      “The bible clearly says” is kind of like claiming to “support the troops”. Disagreement is no longer a matter of different opinions, but of fidelity or the lack thereof.

  3. Of what good is inerrancy, even in the original manuscripts, if everyone’s interpretation is unique?

    Also, what do we then make of the spirit leading us into “all truth”?

    • Hi Stuart,

      For me, inerrancy is a red herring. I found that I could engage with scripture much more meaningfully once I’d jettisoned the need to believe in inerrancy.

      I would say that everyone’s initial interpretation is more or less unique in some way. But surely a big part of the task of biblical interpretation is to take our initial interpretation and submit it to study, critique, dialogue, etc. This is how we learn together.

      As to the spirit leading us into all truth – well, that’s a question of interpretation. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) It depends what you think is meant by “truth” in that context. (And by the way, just to be clear, I’m not someone who thinks all truth is relative.)

      • “All truth”? Was Jesus speaking to the multitudes when He said that? Or was it to a select few, such as His closest followers? And further, was this meant for ALL believers, or was this just for that select few as an encouragement before He left the earth?

        If “all truth” was meant for all believers then Jesus was clearly mistaken, wasn’t He?

        • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

          I don’t think I’d go there for two reasons. 1) Jesus also said “I am the truth”, so his epistemology seems to be different from what we take for granted. 2) It is pretty rare to come across an exhaustive all in any kind of conversation, so I suspect this was a statement of relevance. For example, it is true that Ducati has put desmodromic valves in some of their engines. Somehow I doubt this is the truth Jesus had in mind.

      • I’m with Rob. Inerrancy is a red herring. And first we have to define it.

        This iMonk classic may help. One might say it’s “Michael Spencer clearly says”:

        http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/imonk-classic-we-thought-he-was-such-a-nice-boy%E2%80%94and-then-we-found-out-he-didnt-believe-in-inerrancy

    • “what do we then make of the spirit leading us into “all truth”?”

      Perhaps that is more about the church at large, throughout time and geography. And perhaps it is also about the writing of the Scriptures, since it was said to the Apostles, rather than our individual interpretations (not that we cannot get truth from Scripture as individuals, but more in relation to the understanding of the universal church).

    • Hi Stuart, I do like the thought of inerrancy. It is always followed by commentary. Calvin’s commentaries bore me to tears and I rarely finish them. Something in that style of writing which is very difficult for me. A W Pink did the same thing to me. One book that has helped much has been The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah By Alfred Edersheim. Free as it is out of copyright to download. It is a hard read being 1800’s style of ten words are better than one simple one. I just skipped around a lot reading what I wanted to for the day. A raised Jewish man who converted he puts into context so many things descriptively. I really saw the love of Christ and more in context. Although tempted to say the Bible clearly says I am more convicted to give testimony of how God worked and is working in my life. I have some revelations that I have never heard taught. These are very minor though and more like side lights that never interfere with the content of information and more have to do with greater degrees of love. If someone is listening I may say I saw this. I would never teach it. Not that I have that forum. Testimony to me is the most powerful form for me. The best sermon I have ever heard was testimony and she said many times I am not saying this is how it should be for you I am only saying this is how it was for me. The spirit of God touched me so deeply it seemed I walked on the mountain high for days. I’ll never forget it.
      My hope and faith is always when we face Him, He is leading us into truth. Oh but for the rabbit trails that circle back to places we need to go through in order to go on. We must keep the dialogue open and that same dialogue is in as many different ways as we are unique. It must be I am gaining a softer hand than when I was younger.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        A W Pink did the same thing to me.

        A W Pink also achieved the Theoretical Ultimate End State of Protestantism:

        A One True Church of One, worshipping utterly alone because everyone else were Apostates and Heretics with False Doctrines.

        • That was a couple month period I’d rather not revisit. I was comparing thoughts from many places and Pink’s was one. I read a few good things but they were just way to involved and that twilight going dark I didn’t want to stay in. Inerrancy is always followed by commentary and believe me I know I’m right cause the Bible says.

      • Very good article. I especially like the statement if the bible clearly says three wouldn’t be so many different denominations. 🙂

      • Reading Alfred Edersheim (decades ago) was pivotal in my developing understanding of Jesus.

    • If the Bible is not inerrant then nothing in it can not be trusted and therefore can not be used for doctrine. Who then knows which passages in it are true or false? So basically even many of the discussions here on Imonk, which I love by the way, really become nothing more than philosophical debates. As an old teacher told me, if the Bible is not all true, then any verse in it could also not be true. Who then knows? Then we might as well be the Jesus Seminar and just vote on what we believe. Just in case you’re wondering, I’m not a bible thumper. Think about this. It was C.S. Lewis who said Jesus was God incarnate, a liar, or a nut job, you must choose
      . But if the Bible is unreliable, how do you answer that question? Think about it.

      • I I don’t think Rob is necessarily talking about true/false as much as your interpretation vs my interpretation.

      • If the Bible is not inerrant then nothing in it can not be trusted and therefore can not be used for doctrine.

        So, all or nothing, huh? No in between? That’s a false dichotomy I can no longer accept. And will no longer accept. Let the Bible itself say what it is, both in it’s words and it’s history, and don’t add to it.

        • I can see this is going to be a great discussion. Lets ask the first question. How do we determine what in the Bible is true or not? Since, if the Bible is not inerrant then anything or everything could be false, or even a lie

          • We have to define “true” first, no? Then we have to ask whether our category of what “true” is aligns with what the scriptures are actually attempting to communicate.

          • That false dichotomy starts with assuming that for the Bible to be “true” it has to be inerrant. One “error” in factual accuracy does not require we throw out any part of the Bible as “it’s not true,” yet alone this insistence on throwing out the whole thing that some seem to have.

          • How do we determine what in the Bible is true or not?

            Again, false question, false dichotomy. Sean’s answer was good.

            Here’s a better question: do you believe the Bible is true? Yes? Ok, good. Now, define true. If Genesis 1-2 is not a literal account of creation, I still believe by faith that the Bible is true. Ok, so what is it saying.

            That’s one genre, and example. Let’s do another.

            Do you believe the Bible is true? Yes. Was there a man named Jesus? Yes, there’s ample evidence for me to believe (through faith AND evidence) that there was. Was the Bible true telling us about Jesus? Yes, there is no reason to believe the Bible is false.

            Is Jesus the Son of God? By faith I believe he was. The Bible is true.

          • Joe, your comment is the great slippery slope argument. Throw out one fact, it’s all bs.

            False.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Joe, your comment is the great slippery slope argument. Throw out one fact, it’s all bs.

            YECs do this all the time, with a one-to-one linkage between Six Days 6018 years ago and the Resurrection.

            What this argument results in is the likes of ISIL reciting the Infallible Koran word-for-word

          • Faulty O-Ring says:

            Why, in that case we would have to weigh scripture against the parallel voices of reason, conscience, and church tradition, and then where would we be? In some Godless liturgical church, no doubt–wallowing in the Social Gospel, quietly helping the poor when we ought to be out ranting about evolution or gays…

          • Truth is not the sum total of all the correct facts.

            Truth and accuracy are not the same thing.

            Truth transcends correctness and accuracy.

            Love transcends even all of that.

      • As I see it, trying to apply terms like errant or inerrant to any work of literature — particularly a collection of ancient literary works like the Bible — is extremely problematic. To say that something is inerrant is to imply that their is a definite list of criteria that something must meet completely in order to qualify. So then, who gets to set the criteria? What if everyone’s set of criteria is different? Are human concepts about what makes up an inerrant written work themselves errant? How does one determine the errancy or inerrancy of something like a poem (the Psalms) or an allegorical story (Jesus’ parables) or a theological treatise (Hebrews)? Is there a fullproof system for that kind of analysis? Would we fallible, fallen humans really know 100 percent, God-approved perfection if it kicked us in the teeth? He showed us perfection in His son, but most didn’t recognize it. Heck, many rejected Jesus because he didn’t meet their preconcieved criteria of what the messiah should be.
        I’m not willing to say the Bible is errant or inerrant. I just don’t think those terms can be accurately or functionally applied.

      • Think about this.

        I am not inerrant.

        My children know this.

        Yet they trust me.

      • To say that the Bible is not inerrant is not the same as saying that it’s unreliable. Come on, let’s be a little more rigorous than that.

        For myself, I abandoned inerrancy because I concluded that it simply didn’t make sense. The Bible contradicts itself multiple times; to deny this is to deny the black and white text on the page. Heck, Jesus explicitly contradicted Hebrew texts that were considered inviolable!

        Equating inerrancy with “truth” is, in my opinion, simplistic to the point of absurdity.

        • To say that the Bible is not inerrant is not the same as saying that its not unreliable. Really? If a document is full of lies, what part of that document can you rely on base your life on? so you’re saying that you would dedicate your life,talents, and destiny on something that might be untrue? Is the Book of Mormon true? New World Translation? Diabetics? Hunger Games? The Great Controversy? Don’t you think that any discussion of the nature or existence of God is purely philosophical because really without some rock of truth where do we start? The scientific method can’t help either. In response to an earlier post, even with me being a believer for a long time, sometimes I find myself echoing Pilates’ phrase of “what is truth?”. There are lots of issues for me to chew over, but the inerrancy of scripture is probably one of the hills I’m willing to die on

          • So… in your mind then, the mustard seed IS the smallest seed in the world?

          • “this even might not have happened EXACTLY this way” and “it’s full of lies” are not the same thing! That is one huge straw man you’re building there. To me, a lie is an intentional misrepresentation. No one I have ever heard who questions inerrancy has said that, and I don’t think that’s what Rob is saying here.

          • Is the Book of Mormon true? New World Translation? Diabetics? Hunger Games? The Great Controversy?

            I don’t know about the others, but I’m pretty sure diabetics are real.

          • To say the Bible is not inerrant is NOT to say that it is full of lies. It is simply to acknowledge that it is not a ‘magic book’. It was written (under inspiration) to people who had a very different worldview than we do, did not ask the same questions as we ask, and didn’t have the same concerns we have. God spoke to them in light of that worldview, those questions, and addressed those concerns. For example (to jump into the ‘big one’) the ancient Israelites had no desire (or need) for a scientific understanding of creation (nor would they have understood it if they got one – would E=MC2 make sense to Moses? It barely does to me!). God spoke to them in light of their scientific worldview, not to ‘fix’ it (as John Walton, of Wheaton College, says in his book ‘The Lost World of Genesis One’, ‘Throughout the Bible there is not a single instance in which God revealed to Israel a science beyond their own culture’). The point of the Genesis account of creation is not to give a scientifically accurate, literal six-day, 6000-years-ago account of the events, but to show them that God is THE creator of all things, and that the pagan gods of the Canaanites are no gods at all. He did so by speaking to them in light of their ‘scientific’ (or rather non-scientific) worldview, or else they would have missed the important point of the passage (as many young-earth-creationists do today).

            Another example that I often use is from Matt. 24:31, where Jesus says that his angels will gather the elect from the ‘four winds’, which to his original hearers (the disciples) would have been understood as the four sides of a flat earth. Jesus didn’t seem to think it necessary to stop and say ‘by the way, since this is a “teachable moment”, the earth really isn’t flat, it’s a sphere rotating on an axis every 24 hours, and revolving around the sun every 365.25 days’. That wasn’t his purpose (to teach science) and it would have confused the disciples even more than the things he DID intend to teach them.

            Basically, inerrancy tries to make the Bible into something it isn’t (a ‘magic book’) and something God never intended it to be (the final authority on ‘all truth’, including matters of science, history, sociology, money-management, child-rearing, and fixing motorcycles). It is reliable, and authoritative, but it must be interpreted in light of what it is – a book written to an ancient people, in which God conveyed his truth to them in light of their ancient worldview. The job of interpreting the Bible correctly is largely a matter of understanding that world and figuring out how the original readers/hearers would have understood it’s message. To approach the Bible as though it is a modern science or history book will guarantee wrong interpretations – which is exactly where the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses get it wrong, along with a lot of fundamentalist Christians.

            Another big problem with inerrancy is that it almost always goes beyond simply stating the Bible is true; it usually also means my interpretation of it is true as well (‘The Bible clearly says . . .’).

          • I think for the first century farmer, it was certainly the smallest seed.

          • If these things are as you guys say, then it is impossible to prove the existence of Christ or his resurrection. Certainly, if the Bible might be wrong on any number of points, all other works and writings could contain untruths. My choice of the word”lies” is probably the worst choice. I apologize. But my question still remains. What do we then base our morals, destiny, and integrity on if we don’t have a bottom line core of truth to stand on. By the way Stuart, I’m always provoked into examing my beliefs when I read your posts

          • lol, glad I can help OldProphet, just remember to take me with a grain of salt and grace…lol

          • What do we then base our morals, destiny, and integrity on if we don’t have a bottom line core of truth to stand on.

            How about the Bible? lol. Also the Holy Spirit, our environment, our socio-political roots, our demographic, our family dynamics, our friendships…and above all, Love God and Love Others.

            To bring up yet another well worn topic…look at slavery. That came out of morals. Rapture? Destiny. The sinner’s bench and evangelism tactics? Integrity.

            It’s really not cut and dry.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Is the Book of Mormon true? New World Translation? Diabetics? Hunger Games? The Great Controversy?

            The Koran?
            (Which has its own Verbal Plenary Inspiration and Inerrancy.)

          • ->”If a document is full of lies, what part of that document can you rely on base your life on…”

            Why the assumption that if something is not inerrant, then it must be full of lies? That’s an interesting stretch, one filled with an emotional context in order to strike fear. Might there be “mistakes” that aren’t “lies”? Is it possible that God couldn’t prevent mistakes from entering into His Holy Book, seeing as it was written by flawed humans?

          • I’ve got news for you, OldProphet: it IS impossible to *prove* the existence of Christ or his resurrection. I don’t care how inerrant you think your text is; it still still doesn’t *prove* anything of the sort. Ever heard of faith?

            And a question, which you may have sidestepped earlier: if you believe in an inerrant Bible, what do you say about the many self-contradictions in contains? (Do you really need me to cite some for you?)

          • Oh, come on, Mike. You know the “mustard seed” thing is not an “err.” Context: Jesus was not giving a lecture in botany. In that context, it would be an err.

            The problem with inerrancy is the 16 page definition of an err we need to prop it up. It is better to define Scripture primarily in terms of what it is (truth) than what it is not. A helpful exercise? Maybe. But when it comes to bumper sticker theology and sloganeering, inerrancy doesn’t work very well.

          • Faulty O-Ring says:

            “Diabetics?” should probably read “Dianetics?”

          • OP,

            How did the first Christians believe that Jesus rose from the dead? It was through **testimony.”” And even then, they didn’t believe it when the women came and announced it. They still didn’t get what it meant, even when Jesus appeared to them and explained to them from the OT that the Messiah ***had to die.*** In doing that, the Lord was not proof-texting that he was divine. At the Ascension, the disciples were still asking if Jesus was going to establish the Kingdom (as a political entity, booting out the Romans). They. didn’t. get. it.

            They didn’t get it until the descent of the Holy Spirit, and with the Spirit’s help began ruminating on what it meant for the Messiah to have to die, in connection with the Resurrection. That’s not “proof” as we moderns have understood it since the Enlightenment and the rise of the scientific method – which is a rather recent phenomenon. In the ancient world, eyewitness testimony delivered orally was understood to be “more accurate” than written documents. There was no New Testament yet. How did the first Christians gain converts for 30 years or so before any NT document was written down? You’re a bright guy. Think about it 😉

            Dana
            a fellow Californian

      • Scott Walker says:

        I tend to think that the Bible is true, but only if you are looking for the meta message of God’s love and in the New Testament, the message of redemption through Jesus. If you read the book with an agenda, you will find both support and non-support for just about any proposition. Only by reading the book as a whole document can you see what it means. It also requires a willingness to think about what you are reading. We were given brains for some reason, and I think the Almighty expects us to use them. I think we are expected to observe God’s creation, our experiences therein and to read the Bible, and then use reason to understand what it all means as children of a Father whose language is full of nuance and grace. The never has been any guarantee of easy answers. Easy answers are frequently dangerous and wrong.

      • George Christiansen says:

        You’re right.

        We don’t KNOW and we should stop pretending to. We believe. A persons testimony can be generally reliable without being perfectly accurate and still give us enough to go on.

        The fact is that both those who hold to an inerrant bible and those who do not wind up in the same place of a bunch of people arguing about who’s right and nobody really KNOWING who is. That may be a problem, but an inerrant bible has not proven to be the cure.

    • Random thought:

      Admitting to diversity doesn’t necessary mean nihilism. Why can’t the same stories, or proclamation, and the same Christ be heard, experienced, lived, and embodied in different ways by people in different places in the same city, or across time? Can we hold that we inhabit specific minds and circumstances without being isolated? Maybe our reference point oughtn’t be to “textual interpretation,” as though all the true believes go write the same journal entry after hearing the same story, but to the city of God, or creation, or the Trinity. Particulars and unities. Every time. If you don’t have community, everyone’s alone. If you don’t have diversity, everyone’s alone with a billion copies of themselves, which frankly might be creepier. [Did I just describe hell?]

      • “Of what good is inerrancy, even in the original manuscripts, if everyone’s interpretation is unique?”

        On this point: I think that we don’t get one completely different reading of Scripture for every person, even with people having separate experiences and minds. It would really like a massive fragmentation of language and experience to pull that off. Lots of common threads bind peoples and ideas and experiences, and community, shared confessions, stories, rituals and other means of transmitting knowledge binds people together. The biggest gaps may be between communities that share very different experience and language. But even then it may not be total.

        I mean, if you tell a story about the death of beloved child in seven different centuries on each continent, everyone gets this right away. Some experiences are universally resonant.

        • *It would really take

          *Lots of common threads bind people’s ideas and experiences, and community, shared confessions, stories, rituals and other means of transmitting knowledge also bind people together.

          *death of a beloved

          (Sorry, test of cell phone did not go well.)

      • ” If you don’t have community, everyone’s alone. If you don’t have diversity, everyone’s alone with a billion copies of themselves, which frankly might be creepier. [Did I just describe hell?]”

        Not according to Sartre, who said that “Hell is other people.” But Sartre lacked good judgement in this area; I go with your idea, not his.

    • Stuart, it’s OK to believe in inerrancy. I do. I would also admit that those of us who believe in inerrancy prefer this perspective as it makes it simpler and, I would add, authoritative, when we argue our points. And no, this does not mean we have to start every discourse with “The Bible clearly says…”; rather, we should start with “Based on what I understand the Bible to say, I believe…”

      Likewise, those who have jettisoned inerrancy do so because it helps support their more progressive arguments. Please understand that I am not claiming that progressives are disingenuous. I only say that they choose their premises just as everyone else does.

      Both sides–and everyone in between–pick their premise and build from there. In effect, everyone decides what they want to believe based on their understanding of what God wants from us and the dictates on our conscience.

      • “Likewise, those who have jettisoned inerrancy do so because it helps support their more progressive arguments.”

        B.S. I for one jettisoned inerrancy because it does not fit the bible I read.

        • Likewise, Michael.

        • Me, too. But I’m a heretic. 😉

          • All my friends think I’m a heretic I’m thinking of starting my own church, The Evanismatic Angltist Holy Golden Tabernacle of the Wes Inc! You can’t join unless you read my new book, “So you think you’re a Heretic” It’s a limited release LOL!

        • Michael, you are just as biased as I am, but with a different premise leading us to different conclusions on inerrancy and other matters. One of these you posted (eloquently, I might add) this past Friday with regards theistic evolution. Others will be made evident in your upcoming Friday posts.

          Again, I don’t condemn you for this or think of you as a BS-er; just someone with a different perspective on what Scripture teaches.

          • Not sure that I agree with you here CC. As you will discover in most of the posts of the series, in most topics that I will discuss I have completely changed perspective. I don’t want to too much away, but you and I will definitely have some fun next Friday. 🙂

            By the way I should mention to everyone here. I work Fridays. Next Friday is going to be a particularly intense work day. I don’t have a lot of time that I can make comments during the day. I do read every post, and is someone is way out of line I will moderate. Typically however I will start the topic going and let everyone take it from there.

          • Changing perspective either means adopting a different premise of developing alternate theories on the same premise. Either way, it’s a bias.

            By the way, I do not use the word “bias” in a derogatory way. Biased people can be fair and charitable to others. Everyone’s biased in this way or that; I just wish more folks would admit it.

            Regardless, I will save further comments for Friday. I, too, have to work that day and then lead a wedding rehearsal that evening. But I can always find a few minutes to be ornery.

        • Ditto, Michael.

      • Both sides–and everyone in between–pick their premise and build from there. In effect, everyone decides what they want to believe based on their understanding of what God wants from us and the dictates on our conscience.

        This is definitely true. Which is one reason I’m rejecting inerrancy. Because I realized everyone was deciding what they wanted to believe and used inerrancy to cover it up. And after that realization and others, I decided I don’t want to believe in inerrancy because of it’s fruit and implications.

        • -> “…and used inerrancy to cover it up…I don’t want to believe in inerrancy because of it’s fruit and implications.”

          Bingo! Belief in the Bible isn’t about inerrancy or not, it’s about God’s love for us and history of chasing after His people. A firm stance on inerrancy can distort that. Check the fruits of the Spirit; they tend to be tainted when inerrancy comes into play. In fact, if you’re bearing fruit of the Spirit “against such things there is no law.” In other words, if you’re bearing fruit, don’t let the Bible hold you back!

          That’s my experience, anyway, and I know others might disagree.

        • Stuart, I don’t think you followed my argument as I intended. Not everyone who believes in inerrancy uses it to cover up whatever it is they are covering up or to be a literalist or fundamentalist. And not everyone who rejects inerrancy uses that as a platform to launch liberal theology and leftist ideology. It’s more nuanced and complicated than that.

      • “Based on what I understand the Bible to say, I believe…”
        I really see nothing wrong with that statement. I would only add testimony to that and continue with and this is how it is working itself out in my life. Now I believe when we do that we are really testifying to where we are at with God and ten years from now it might not look the same. In my case I’m kinda hoping it doesn’t. I’m hoping it looks a whole lot better.

  4. I have also encountered ‘the Bible clearly says . . . ‘ many times, along with dozens of versions of ‘the biblical gospel’. Confusion, much.

  5. Interesting that the two great ecumenical creeds, the Apostles and the Nicene, do not begin with the statement, “The Bible clearly says,” (or, for that matter, “The Tradition clearly says), but “I believe…” The word “believe,” however, is charged by them with great conviction that rises above the level of mere offered opinion, and a significant part of that conviction is rooted in the authority with which they dare to interpret the Biblical texts that form their background. So that, for them, the word “believe” carries its stronger rather than weaker connotations, including affirmation.

    I think it’s legitimate for us to speak of our personal body of knowledge from reading the Bible, and testing our readings in the crucible of life lived, that approximate both the weaker and stronger connotations of the word “believe.” In fact, whenever a Christian confesses the Creeds in public worship, we are using the word “believe” in its strongest possible sense, as an affirmation rather then mere opinion, and we are by implication making strong statements about “correct” interpretation of the Biblical texts that are the Creeds background; this should be personal as well as corporate.

    • Great comment, Robert.

      To argue that statements like “the Bible clearly says” are unhelpful is not to argue that there is no authoritative truth in the Bible. Rather, it is to argue that a person’s interpretation of a given text is not authoritative just because they say it is, or just because that’s how they happen to read it.

      • Yes, the great virtue and staying power of the Creeds is that they arose out of a conciliar interpretative consensus, though I would argue that the consensus was not reached by a comprehensively conciliar process, since it was one in which the voice of clergy was far more heavily weighted than that of laity. The positive contribution of Protestantism is that it opened up this interpretative process to laity, who have a right and obligation to contribute to it as part of the priesthood of all believers. That it has frequently dismally failed to do so, and resulted in readings that were merely personal and divisive, does not diminish the importance of the project it set in motion to draw all Christians into the interpretative process, a project which is as alive in the Catholic branches of the Church now as it is in the Protestant. Of course, the contributions of Biblical studies have to be included, but I would argue that the we as Christians should weigh more heavily the contributions of scholars who have committed themselves to the primary affirmations of Christian faith than those who have not, since only the Church is able to properly interpret Scripture. Non-believing secular scholars cannot, by definition, contribute to building up a comprehensive, consensual, Christian interpretation of Scripture, although some of their observations and studies may help the Christian community to do so.

        • Correction: the Nicene Creed starts with “We believe..” The Apostles Creed is the baptismal symbol, by profession of which I become part of the Christian community. When reciting the Nicene Creed, I’m already part of the community by virtue of baptism and confession.

          I think it’s interesting, though, that both Creeds start with affirmations that go on to center themselves in what God has done for “us,” not what he has done for “me.” Both affirm that Jesus died for us as the Church, not me as an individual, which precludes the personal pietism that places so much emphasis on how important I am in the scheme of things, and how “Jesus would have died for me, me, me, even if I was the only miserable sinner of a human being on earth” (how many times have we heard it?). I make personal confession of belief in a faith that incorporates me into a community that God is saving through and in Jesus Christ; he died for us, not me, and he redeems us, not me.

          If only this emphasis could be remembered as a model when Scripture is being interpreted and read. But that requires moving ourselves away from the center, and that can be difficult for many, me included.

          • Very true, Robert. Many of us have been taught and/or conditioned to read scripture through an entirely individualistic lens.

          • In the corporate setting the joining of us which I always must remember includes me. Sorry just a pet peeve of mine when I hear it is not about me. Jesus washes our feet and serves us. All of us. The true nature of a good King.

          • Correction: Correction…

            The Latest translation of the Nicene creed in the Catholic Church begins with “I believe…” – a change that was rolled out several years ago…

          • As far as I know, in Greek (in the east, then) it has always been “I believe.”

            Dana

          • Asinus Spinas Masticans says:

            It was plural in the Creed, but singular in the Liturgy. I don’t know why.

  6. AsinusSpinasMasticans says:

    The fault, dear Cassius, lies not with Bible, but with ourselves.

    It is not the Bible that lacks perspicuity, it is poor ol’ Mule, who comes to the Bible laden down with all manner of sins, lusts, passions, and heresies of the heart and mind. If by some miracle of grace, he were able to extract some shard of truth from the sacred writings, you can be certain it would have to be submitted to the Church for judgement. For as the biologist is given a microscope for the persecution of her investigations, so the proper instrument for the discernment of the voice of the Holy Ghost in the Scriptures is the Whole Church.

    Yeah, this gets scary. Official Orthodoxy can hang by a thread, as it did in St Maximus’ day, when the Hagarenes were rising like a tsunami out of the desert, and the Emperors and the bishops clung to monothelitism as the only hope for the Empire, but the ship did not founder, and the ballast held.

    In my heart of hearts, I intuit that there is a difference between the Ecumenical creeds of Nicea and Chalcedon and the “confessions” of the Reformation era, both Protestant and Catholic. You know that the Orthodox have no canon, right? Just a bunch of books we use in church.

    • What you say about the influence of our many “sins, lusts, passions, and heresies of the heart and mind” is, of course, true. But even if you could set aside the effects of sin, we would still be conditioned by nature and experience to interpret texts in certain ways.

      • Asinus Spinas Masticans says:

        But even if you could set aside the effects of sin, we would still be conditioned by nature and experience to interpret texts in certain ways.

        …and your point is, what? That, even if we were perfect saints, unanimity concerning the meaning of Scripture will always elude us? Thank God! If every one of us were identical, charity would be indistinguishable from narcissism.

        I have a private heresy I refer to as the Orthodoxy of Here and Now, which will necessarily diverge from the Orthodoxy of Then and There, or even of the Orthodoxy of 50 miles down the road. To be sure, we will share interpretation with those who share a common “nature and experience”, as you put it. The more alert among the heterodox, like Wendell Berry, get this in a way that is hard to relate to in our discarnate era. When we eat food from thousands of miles away, it is easy to be dismissive of the relationships between soil, DNA, and belief. In the Algorithm we live, move and have our being.

    • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

      It is not the Bible that lacks perspicuity, it is poor ol’ Mule, who comes to the Bible laden down with all manner of sins, lusts, passions, and heresies of the heart and mind.
      That is a distinction without a difference. I remember missing our business goal at work and a coworker confiding that we had still done a pretty good job considering the problems we had faced and overcome. I just looked at him curiously and remarked that why we missed our budget was entirely irrelevant to the VCs.

      • Asinus Spinas Masticans says:

        I get the idea. People often irritate me by telling me how much they paid for a piece of property I am interested in purchasing from them as if that should factor into my consideration.

        Nevertheless, we have to assume that the VCs weren’t just funding the operation to torment programmers with unobtainable goals. We assume they wanted them to be met. I’ve been in those Death Marches before and have learned to enjoy them. I get paid regardless, until they pull the plug. After that, it’s the VCs who have to go to the real Cthulhus and explain why their pickers were so out of whack as to pick slothful, gluttonous Mule for their team rather than Eager Beager.

        We have to assume that the Bible is intelligible, and I was just saying it is more salutatory to blame yourself than the Bible. Of course, its far easier, in both business and theology, to blame the other guy if you can get away with it.

    • Faulty O-Ring says:

      If history had been a little different, you would be equally confident in the truth of monothelitism.

    • Mule, why on earth do you use obscure words when plain English works just fine? I mean, “Muslim Arabs” is something people understand; “Hagarenes” not only sounds somewhat loaded per etnicity, it’s not exactly in common use and people have to look it up.

      I honestly think you like to throw around obscure words to make yourself sound like an expert on many matters. The plain old 2-dollar words are not only more comprehensible, they’re more accurate in this case, since a great many Arabs at that time were Christian.

      As for creeds, you guys don’t have the lock up on them. Even some of us Protestants use them as a normal part of weekly services.

    • Personally, i think the Byzantine emperors were much more concerned about losing territory than they were about anything to do with religion. And if you do some careful reading of history, it becomes clear that that your claim re. a “tsunami” isn’t altogether accurate. If anything, it happened in slo-mo, not in some sort of overwhelming flood z and by no means were the xtian communities in the ME obliterated.

    • ” You know that the Orthodox have no canon, right? Just a bunch of books we use in church.”

      A bunch of books which haven’t been added to or subtracted from for how many centuries? You have a canon, you just don’t use the word. It seems rather coy to make a distinction between your church and others based on the simple non-use of a word, since you in fact behave just like any church that does use the word.

  7. I totally believe in the Holy Spirit’s inerrancy to continue revealing and fully forming the Christ in me.

  8. “Facebook has become a place of wide-ranging theological discussion…”

    Facebook keeps telling me, several times over the past couple of years, that the phrase “Do not be afraid” appears in the Bible 365 times. It’s like a daily reminder to not be afraid! Only problem, of course, is that the statement is untrue.

    http://themasterstable.wordpress.com/2014/08/27/opinion-is-this-a-good-lie/

  9. Thank you Rob for this great post! I come from a very fundamental/evangelical background, which eventually led to crashing/burning/running from all things God-related. Reading this site and a few others has helped me slowly come to a more balanced place of faith (I think). Some of my family think I’ve gone loony. I’ve found reading Kenneth Bailey very helpful in correcting my 21st-century, white, middle-class, Western interpretation of Scriptures.

    • Thanks so much for your kind comment. Since I first discovered it about eight years or more ago, IM has been a vital part of my journey. And I understand what you mean about others thinking you’ve lost your marbles.

      • IM has been wonderful for me and a vital part of my journey, too. It’s helped me converse with people of varied theologies in a healthy manner, and I’m sure I also come across as having either lost my marbles or having become a heretic. That’s okay. The Pharisees thought Jesus was a heretic, so I imagine if I’m being shaped by Jesus I’ll have a bit of a heretical look to me.

  10. Interesting how God created such an orderered, precise, and complex universe yet seems to speak through writings that are apparently not clear. I wonder if that’s on purpose? On the other hand, some things are clear enough… hence the Creeds.

    • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says:

      I think a great deal of scientists, especially physicists, would disagree with your assessment of the the universe! Einstein once remarked “God does not play dice with the universe.” As chaos theory and quantum mechanics developed, Steven Hawking famously quipped, “Not only does God play dice with the universe, he throws them where they can’t be seen.”

    • Faulty O-Ring says:

      If they were that clear, then the creeds would be unnecessary. The Trinity is not in the Bible, for example (unless one is determined to read it into the text). In point of fact, each church council served to anathematize some other group of putative Christians.

      • Hmmmm it seems that, while some things may not be clear or even specifically mentioned in the Bible, it is intellectually irresponsible to not deduce certain characteristics of God, including the Trinity.

  11. Your article clearly says that being active in theological debates on Facebook has taught you a lot.

    I’ve not found the same to be true for me, unfortunately.

  12. Desert Storm Libertarian says:

    How do we apply 2 Timothy 3:16 to our everyday lives if Scripture is interpreted so differently by Christian denominations? In my ESV bible, footnotes to specific verses mention that other words beside the word in verse can be substituted or added to the canon. Is illumination by the Holy Spirit to each individual believer the purest, most accurate form of scriptural interpretation we have at our disposal?

    • To your final question, no. I certainly don’t think I suggested as much in my post.

    • Marcus Johnson says:

      The variance of interpretation from one denomination to the next does not render 2 Timothy 3:16 invalid. Paul seems to be claiming that Scripture, as inspired by God, is useful, but doesn’t get into specifics as to how Scripture is useful. Yes, verse 17 appends “so that the servant of God[a] may be thoroughly equipped for every good work,” but it remains a general statement about the nature of Scripture as a collection of God-inspired material.

      In addition, no one seems to be arguing that it is up to every individual to decide on their own what Scripture means. In fact, by your observation that several “denominations” interpret Scripture differently, I would argue that these interpretations are the result of communities seeking truth, not one person alone.

      As for your ESV notes, because the Bible was originally written in another language to another culture, English translations do not completely remove text ambiguity. I seriously doubt, though, that the word substitutions are going to dramatically alter your understanding of who God is if you put them in the text. If they do, you might need to go in search of a better translation (not intended to be condescending, that really does happen a lot).

      • Marcus,

        2 Timothy 3:16-17 also doesn’t explain exactly what is inspired scripture.

        Not to channel Bill Clinton, but part of the problem seems to be that there is no “is” in the Greek. As I understand it, the text reads something like this: “Pasa graphe theopneustos kai ophelimos pros didaskalian…etc.”

        This usually gets translated something like, “All scripture [is] inspired by God and [is] useful for teaching, etc.” But literally it’s more like, “All writing God-breathed and useful for teaching, etc.”

        Does this mean that all writing is God-breathed (inspired)? I don’t think so. I think it means that all God-breathed writing [is] useful, etc. But it doesn’t say what that God-breathed writing is. It has been left to us, or to our accepted predecessors, to decide what that God-breathed writing is or is not. Hence, the Canon of Scripture. We take it that the Holy Spirit did inspire (breathe into) those who closed the Canon, giving us our present Bible. But let’s remember that when those verses in 2 Timothy were being written, much of the New Testament didn’t yet exist, nor had the rest of 2 Timothy.

        Not to sound slippery, but we’re talking about “what the Bible clearly says,” and graphe I think means “writing.” It takes that modifier theopneustos (“God-breathed”) to give it the sense of inspired scripture, and after that it merely says that such inspired writing (what we call “Holy Scripture”) is “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” It does not say (exactly) that it is authoritative, but we voluntarily accept that, acknowledging that the Bible is somehow inspired by God.

        I’m out on a limb here. Any Greek scholars that can confirm or denounce? I just blew the wad on what I think I know.

        • Of course Greek has a word for “is”. But I meant not in the Greek text here. I don’t want to channel Reagan as well as Clinton.

        • Ted, I’m not a Greek scholar, but I’ve come across that argument before from someone who is. With reference to 2 Tim 3:16-17, at the very least one can say that “All scripture that is God-breathed is useful…” is just as valid a translation as “All scripture is God-breathed and useful…”. That being the case, it seems to me that to build a doctrine of inerrancy on those two verses alone is rather a stretch.

  13. Allow me to confess up front that I’ve resorted to the “TBCS School of Hermeneutics” more often than is comfortable for me to admit. I am properly and thoroughly chastened. That being said, I believe it is possible to see scripture as inerrant, in the sense that when it speaks of God and His nature and character, it is speaking the truth and nothing else. Then again, as pointed out in previous comments, there are multitudes of different translations of the same, and it’s possible to wonder where and if we might be getting it wrong.

    Despite all this, I am comforted by the thought that when we meet Jesus, He will probably say to us, “You know, I never meant for it to be so hard!” Terrific post!

    • His yoke is easy, his burden light. Until religion creeps in.

      • Hoping it was easy and light this weekend for you Rick

        • Prayers and support were felt, w. My general sense of peace and joy was a testimony to that. Thanks again for thinking of me and the retreat. Did it all go off as planned? No. Do I have any sense as to how it went? No. But I trust Jesus with the message that was delivered, since it was a message about him.

        • Oh, and a quick additional…

          I used Leslie’s take on John the Baptist sending his disciples to ask Jesus if he was the one or if they should expect another, and you should’ve heard the reaction!!! It was awesome, people going, “Wow, I’d never thought of that! That’s a great potential twist on the story!” And it fit the theme, “Go ask Jesus!”

          • Just remember no post ministry syndrome and I am glad for the peace and joy. Yea, how can you go wrong with asking Jesus. Now as far as listening better I could use some help there so I think I’ll ask Jesus.

    • Chris, thanks for your kind words.

  14. Joseph (the original) says:

    That being said, I believe it is possible to see scripture as inerrant, in the sense that when it speaks of God and His nature and character, it is speaking the truth and nothing else.

    in my theological opinion, folks in the Old Testament would always have a ‘clouded’ view of God until He Himself became for us Immanuel. but unfortunately, that very same tendency today has produced a thousand different flavors of Jesus, so I am very appreciative of the efforts here on this site that show us how our ‘image’ of this very enigmatic Jesus in the New Testament did make deliberate attempts at clearing up for us many of our misconceptions. however, in doing so, He also caused just as many more questions to be asked as He answered. and here’s another theological pet peeve of mine: Calvinist/Reformist thought as well as Protestant Evangelical dogma likes to have God and Jesus all neatly parsed, dissected, folded, outlined, sanitized, compartmentalized, formulized, etc. to the nth degree, which seems to me to be an oxymoron if they actually believe in His transcendence. if that is what is meant by your use of term inerrant (which seems to me to be an intellectual box), then you will not be able to reach consensus on the more contentious viewpoints of the deity written about in Holy Writ…

    • Hi Joseph! No, I agree with you that inerrancy, as I use the word, should not lead to the fully analyzed and completely understood God In A Box. I guess when I say “truth” I mean small-t truth and not TRVTH. Perhaps I should’ve left off the “and nothing else”… 🙂

  15. There’s my OLLIE.! He died at 19+, still miss you OLLIE.

    • Rob gets extra credit for the cat analogy and photos.

      • I’ll take the credit for the analogy, but Mike supplied the photos. When I published this post on my blog, I just included one kitty and Bible photo. Kudos to Mike for finding three. Who knew there were so many photos of cats and Bibles out there?

    • I have a cat named olie I saved from the mountain. She was wild but love has changed her. Mostly I just love to see her.

  16. I am becoming more convinced by the day that whatever you come to the Bible seeking, you can find. Especially in a culture dominated by so much post-modern communication theory. Case in point, when most people say “The Bible clearly says,” they’re not even clearly saying what they mean, which is usually “The Bible clearly teaches” or “means this.”

    There IS however, one time where it is technically appropriate to say this: When “The Bible clearly says,” is followed immediately by a direct quote from the text. However, in that context, the word “clearly” is rendered superfluous, and implies simplicity of understanding. We DO need to distinguish between “says” and “means,” it is a little nuance with tons of meaning that can go a long way towards facilitating civil exchanges between antagonistic ideas.

    There, are, however, SOME things that the Bible does say clearly. I would include in this list all the many things upon which all Christians agree. These usually don’t follow the line “the Bible clearly says” because they are not the subject of much controversy or debate, unless dealing with cults or outsiders. …and, I would add that the Bible also clearly says some things that have become controversial, such as “Baptism saves.” We can argue about what it means when it says that, but it most certainly does say it.

    • We haven’t even gotten into the translations issue with “the bible clearly says” yet…

      Survivor of the KJV Only wars, I am.

    • “such as “Baptism saves.”

      The thief on the cross might disagree.

      • Yes.

        So maybe it is more appropriate to interpret “Baptism saves” as a non-exclusive statement. In other words, Yes, Baptism saves, but maybe so does something else. It’s not “Baptism and baptism alone saves.”

        That’s back to Mr. Grayson’s point, I think. Yes, the cat sat on the mat. His article clearly says that. But that’s not to say there isn’t also a dog sitting on the mat, or a mouse, or…

        • It’s quite fascinating to me that God knew/knows these writings would cause some confusion/disagreement. To “me”, it shows that God wants to remain mysterious, and keep us seeking His Truth. Perhaps, while God is immutable, He also doesn’t want to be put in a box.

          • Yes. And curiously, the more I discover about God and Jesus, the more mysterious they become. I love it!!! To “me,” God is some glorious mix of all the theologies that try to describe Him. None of them are exactly right, all of them are wrong to some extent. He’s way outside whatever box we try to fit Him in.

            I praise Him for that, for it keeps the relationship fresh!

          • Ok Joel: 1 Peter 3:21 literally says “Baptism now saves you.” What do you think it means? “Baptism does not save you?”

          • +1 it is kind of romantic to keep us interested so.

          • Miguel, I’m of the understanding that the outward sign of Baptism doesn’t mean much without inward faith in Christ. CC does a good job of breaking it down below. Your point is taken. There is no denying what it says.

          • That’s a beautiful way to put it w.

        • Ding ding ding! We have a winner! Finally, somebody gets it. Thanks, Rick!

          Technically, it’s the Word and the Word alone that saves. The thief received it from Christ Himself, and we all receive the same thing in Baptism. It doesn’t limit God to only saving the washed, but if you are washed, it is His sign and seal that you belong to Him.

          • I love you too, Miguel. 😉

            One of the reasons I got baptized a couple years ago, after 26 years as a Christian, was my greater understanding of God’s grace and Jesus’ work, that ironically I did NOT need to get baptized to be saved. It was more a declaration of my belief in and thanks for God’s grace and Jesus’ sacrifice.

          • …and you lost me. You got baptized BECAUSE you realized you did NOT need it? That makes about as much sense as eating a burrito because you aren’t hungry!

            Don’t get me wrong, the sacraments are most certainly declarations. They declare the most important things that could ever be declared. …but what if they are, by the power of God’s Word, actually declarations that DO what they SAY? Believe me, it makes a ton of sense out of a lot of verses. 🙂

          • Let me try to explain further, Miguel. It still might not make sense, but…oh well.

            Soon after I became a Christian (AKA said the sinner’s prayer), I was semi-hounded by a Christian who kept telling me I needed to be baptized. Now, when someone tells me I need something more than accept Jesus into my heart, that I need to do something more to be certain of my salvation, that perhaps I’m not really a Christian until I take this and this step, then I’m going to resist. It was clear to me, made even more so by the pressure of this Christian, that baptism was not a requirement for salvation or to enter into a relationship with God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit, that it was mostly a outward sign of an inner change. (My “sense”, based upon study of the word, and conversation with the Word.)

            Now, interestingly, I kinda knew all along that I would eventually seek to be baptized, and all through my years and years following Jesus, I kept pulsing the Spirit for the right time. I wanted to be baptized when I knew I wasn’t doing it as a “work,” as a “there, now I know I’m saved,” as a part of some sort of man-made requirement. Without going into details, that time became clear a couple years ago, as I truly understood God’s grace and Jesus’ work on the cross and with His resurrection.

            Maybe an analogy isn’t so much eating a burrito when I’m not hungry; maybe a better analogy would be taking communion when I’m not hungry or thirsty. It’s not about any sort of need or requirement. It’s about an inner connection with Jesus.

            That still might not make any sense to you, but…”it’s my experience that”…my baptism was perfectly timed. It was all about His grace and work, not mine. It wasn’t a box to check, just for the surety of salvation. I did it to recognize His sacrifice, to declare my faith, and to get a little wet.

          • Sinner’s prayer? Accepting Jesus into my heart? Enter into a relationship with God? Outward sign of an inner change? Pulsing the Spirit? Inner connection with Jesus?
            ….are you testing me, Satan? 😛

            Sorry, your colloquialisms have turned me into Mitchell and Webb’s “bad vicar.” =O

            But seriously, it never ceases to amaze me how those phrases constitute so much of the backbone of what passes for “Biblical Christianity.” None of that is from the Scriptures whatsoever! …and yet, “Baptism saves” actually is.

            perhaps I’m not really a Christian until I take this and this step, then I’m going to resist

            So why then the step of “accepting Jesus into my heart,” which is not mentioned in Scripture, but not the step of getting Baptized, which clearly is?
            …and how do you need to “pulse the Spirit” for the right time? If Jesus tells you to do something, can there be a wrong time? Even if it is an “outward sign of an inner change,” there’s no point in delaying it.

            I wanted to be baptized when I knew I wasn’t doing it as a “work,” as a “there, now I know I’m saved,” as a part of some sort of man-made requirement.

            Accepting Jesus into your heart is a man-made requirement. Being baptized is the command of Christ. Now, I get that you are trying to avoid works-righteousness, which is very commendable, but you’ve only let it in the back door. Baptism is not only NOT a “man made requirement,” but it is also not your work. You do not Baptize yourself, and if it has any positive spiritual effect on you, it isn’t because of your work or merit, but rather, the work of God on you, and the merits of Christ given you in Baptism through faith.

          • Well, I won’t address all your points, but here’s a cool thing: I do actually cringe at the concept of “the sinner’s prayer” now. It took me 20-something years to get there, but I see the shakiness of it as a Biblical concept. I mentioned it only to present my salvation experience on day 1, not that I don’t view it differently looking back on it. I’m still learning, Miguel…still learning. I love my Lord. He is a patient God.

          • Me too, Rick! In the meantime, I’m glad you finally “took the plunge.” Just in case, you know. 😛

        • Or that the cat didn’t also sit on a lap—or a laptop, like Little Sal while I’m trying to read this stuff.

          • I have one who stands on the keys in front of my screen. I do think he is needy of attention. Kind of reminds me of God and I at times. Only His screen is so much bigger than mine. This cat of mine gets his attention then he is good for awhile. Kind of reminds me of……… ah you get the point.

      • the good thief humbly wanted to be remembered by Our Lord when He entered into His Kingdom . . . and Our Lord responded to that humble trust with unbounded grace. It is in that spirit that I think the Good Thief, whom tradition calls ‘St. Dismus’, might have found these words meaningful:

        ““See where you are baptized, see where Baptism comes from,
        if not from the cross of Christ, from His death.
        There is the whole mystery: He died for you. In Him you are redeemed, in Him you are saved “

        (St. Ambrose)

        • Thank you Christiane. Yes this makes sense. Beautiful words, yours and St. Ambrose. I will think about this more.

    • Marcus Johnson says:

      First, yes, anyone who wants to find support for genocide, rape, racism, slavery, etc. can find it in the Bible. Also, anyone who wants to find the Jesus-is-cool-and-God-is-love-and-that’s-all-that-matters theology can find that in the Bible, too.

      Second, you’re right about the use of the phrase, “The Bible says,” omitting the “clearly.” It’s also important that statements like that are clearly intended to be statements of fact about the text itself, not interpretation about dogma or faith.

      Still, I’m hesitant to use the phrase “The Bible clearly says” about anything. I would rather go with “We believe that…” or “God teaches that…”, only because the Bible, when spoken of as a single work, affirms very few things. For example, baptism is not affirmed as a sacrament in the Old Testament. The book of Esther does not teach that Jesus is the Messiah. Each book has its own purpose in the canon, so I would rather attribute teachings or beliefs directly to God and my understanding of certain passages of Scripture than to the Bible itself.

      • “We believe” or “God teaches”…

        I like those, Miguel. Another way to converse with folks of different understandings is “It’s my experience that…”

      • “The Bible clearly says that Jesus died on the cross.”

        C’mon, at least give me that one. I don’t see anybody contesting it. 😛

        Each book has its own purpose in the canon, so I would rather attribute teachings or beliefs directly to God and my understanding of certain passages of Scripture than to the Bible itself.

        This is good. Of course, I always find a safe way to phrase things to be “Our church teaches that…” People who don’t belong to your church aren’t going to challenge you on that, and they don’t need to. It’s a non-aggressive and non-assertive rhetorical move, stating your views as a matter of fact, the fact being that you believe them, without reducing them to your own personal opinion.

    • A very good point indeed, Miguel!

    • “Baptism saves” is a problem for both paedobaptists and credo-baptists. As a former Roman Catholic I was taught that baptism absolves you of all sins–but only until you sin again. And since we can only be baptized once, confession and penance provide ongoing absolution.

      Protestant paedobaptism theology is all over the map. In general, however, and at the expense of oversimplifying it, it welcomes the individual (a child, usually) into the Church but is not a guarantee of justifying faith later in life (did I miss something; I’m more familiar with Calvin’s Covenant Theology than I am with Lutheran or other views on this)?

      Credobaptism makes more sense to me as only those who have confessed Christ as Lord are to be baptized. In this sense “baptism saves” is more like “the saved get baptized.” But even here I have seen some who appeared to be sincere in their confession of faith, were baptized, did well for a little bit, and then became apostates.

      So we’re back to square one. “Baptism saves” is more of a metaphor, an outward sign of what the Holy Spirit did to the person on the inside–but not always.

      So much for “The Bible clearly teaches that baptism saves…” Well, yes and no.

      • Calvin, good analysis of the mixture of thoughts and issues regarding “Baptism saves”!

        “Well, yes and no.” Love it!

        • The enormous variety of views on the meaning and proper understanding of baptism should require us to exhibit a great degree of charity to other Christians who disagree with us on the subject, and a great degree of hesitation and humility about the level of certitude with which we advocate our own views.

          • Yes, but to a point. On Baptism, for instance, there is something to be said for the near universal consensus of the church pre-Reformation, and the continued consensus of its vast majority (Orthodox, Catholic, and Lutheran far outnumber the rest combined, at least triple) today. I don’t assert the divinity of Christ with hesitation and humility about my level of certitude when debating a Mormon. I would die for that belief, and I have no qualms with being confrontational about it, albeit with gentleness and respect.

          • I think there was a far greater degree of variety in understanding and practice of baptism in the first four centuries than you suggest. I believe the near universal consensus you talk about has been read back into those centuries from later ones, but that the historical evidence to back it up is in fact not there.

          • This may be, but we do not have historical evidence for 1. the rejection of infant baptism and the overturning of that, and 2. a Baptism that is not for the remission of sins. That was pretty firmly in place by the council of Nicaea (and, I would argue, by the authorship of the original manuscripts of what later became the cannon).

            But I digress: None of the churches that have continued since that era have deviated from their teaching, and that speaks enormous, but most importantly, it can be defended easily enough from the text of Scripture. I think “near universal” is fair, after all, it’s only “near.” There’s always dissenters, for just about anything, on principle. If there aren’t any dissenters, that’s a good time to become worried.

          • It would be odd to have historical evidence to prove a negative. From my admittedly amateur understanding, and without being able to list sources, it seems to me that recent scholarship is not so certain that infant baptism was nearly universal in the first two or three centuries of the Church. I do think that there was an early, highly sacramental view of baptism, and from what little I know, the historical evidence supports that. Baptism from the earliest days was considered to be far more than just a symbolic act. I still think humility is called for here, because there are so many Christians of integrity who disagree with a sacramental view, and their lives so often manifest the presence of Christ.

            Btw, wouldn’t the Catholics and Orthodox far outweigh the others without any help from the Lutheran, even if the Lutheran numbers were put on the others?

          • Yes, us Lutherans are not much of a numerical contribution in that regard, though we’re huge in Africa right now. But we also have a good portion of Anglicans on our side, too, and I think one of the restorationist denoms teaches credo-baptismal regeneration. Go figure.

            Well yes, I have many good friends who are credobaptists too, especially around here. Gentleness and respect are sufficient, I believe. I save the “I could be wrong” motif for things like, I dunno, the age of the earth, or something a bit less directly addressed in Scripture. 😛

            More seriously, though, this is something about which Christians can agree to disagree agreeably, but for those in the Sola Scriptura camp, there is both room and reason for vigorous debate on the subject. I think the text is very clear, but I understand how so many can miss it.

      • As a former Roman Catholic I was taught that baptism absolves you of all sins–but only until you sin again.

        It’s different when you argue theology with a Catholic. They don’t have to lean solely on the Scripture, they have other authoritative sources of doctrine. I don’t think this one, in particular, is justified Biblically, but Catholics here can prove me wrong.

        Protestant paedobaptism theology is all over the map.

        I only know of two views: Calvinists view it is a sign of the covenant and an expression of corporate solidarity analogous to circumcision, only inclusive for women. Lutherans view it as the “washing of regeneration, “…for the remission of sins.”

        is not a guarantee of justifying faith later in life

        There is no guarantee of this, anywhere. We get in by grace, we stay in by grace.

        In this sense “baptism saves” is more like “the saved get baptized.”

        How is that any different from “baptism does not save?” It turns the text on its head.

        “Baptism saves” is more of a metaphor, an outward sign of what the Holy Spirit did to the person on the inside–but not always.

        Well, actually, the Bible doesn’t speak of that anywhere. Sorry, we can argue what the Bible means by particular texts, but what you are referring to simply isn’t there. You have to deal with the phrases “He who believes and is baptized will be saved,” “Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins,” “We were therefore buried with Him, through Baptism,” and “Baptism, which corresponds to this [the ark], now saves you.”
        The phrase or idea “outward sign of an inward work” is not only absent from Scripture, but also absent from Christendom prior to the radical Reformation. Believe me, as someone who used to hold this view, I know where it comes from. I understand the process how this conclusion is arrived at (unless you would care to demonstrate for me an alternate route). It doesn’t come from the text. …at least, that I’m aware of.

        • Good points Miguel. Those of us who are credobaptist Calvinists tend to view baptism in much the same way as communion, i.e., purely symbolic. This is quite different from Calvin’s teaching and closer to Zwingli’s.

          But to be honest I’m not comfortable any longer with straight symbolism for the reasons you mention and am contemplating a deeper spiritual implications of the ordinances.

          Is there such a thing as a “Calglilutheranistic” perspective on the “ordinaments”?

          • No. It either is the body and blood of Christ, or it isn’t. There can’t be a half way.

            HOWEVER, we can share certain nuances of belief about it. I find many things to commend in the Belgic Confession (along with things to disagree with) which I believe would be very helpful for more Evangelicals to emphasize:
            from Article 33: “We believe that our good God, mindful of our crudeness and weakness, has ordained sacraments for us to seal his promises in us, to pledge his good will and grace toward us, and also to nourish and sustain our faith.” Brilliant. It is a tangible word of promises that gives what it says!
            “For they are visible signs and seals of something internal and invisible, by means of which God works in us through the power of the Holy Spirit.” Some quibbles there, but it is good to connect pneumatology to the Sacraments.

            But if you really want to dig deeper, read Luther’s Small Catechism on Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. There is no more excellent summary of the teaching of Scripture on this regard, and while you may find some of the assertions confrontational at first, let them sit with you for a while. If you reflect on them and become more familiar with them, you will begin to see how they are so very true to the Biblical text, and at the same time, delightfully liberating words of pure Gospel.

          • Cal, I just remembered: You oversee music at your church, right? Here is an excellent resource you may find handy in navigating these issues. It’s put together mostly by reformedish Evangelicals, and it is a collection of excellent communion hymns, I think both old retuned and original. They are very singable, enjoyable ear candy, and practically useful for Evangelicals seeking a more spiritual approach to the Lord’s Supper. You can listen for free, or like 5 bucks to download:
            http://cardiphonia.bandcamp.com/album/songs-for-the-supper

        • Miguel wore;

          “…and I think one of the restorationist denoms teaches credo-baptismal regeneration. Go figure.”

          Yes. the Stone-Campbell Restoration/Reformation Movement, specifically, the Churches of Christ. I logged 44 years in that one.

  17. “The Bible clearly says…”

    Good thing for those that declare this that none of them was born before the Bible came to be, eh?

    (And for full disclosure, I’m sure I was one of these folks in my early Christian days.)

  18. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Good thing for those that declare this that none of them was born before the Bible came to be, eh?

    As Will Rogers said about the Planned Parenthood of his time:
    “Notice that everyone in favor of Birth Control always made sure they’ve already been born?”

  19. Dave Noelle says:

    Is “science” errant or inerrant?

    Imagine if it were so either/or. Either science is perfect and has figured everything out, or none of it can be trusted? Hmm. I am trusting that this message will post due to the sciences that give us the technology to do such and to view such. I have “faith” that, God willing, the “science” behind my truck will mean the brakes and steering and throttle work in a predictable way to get me home to my family. I mean what is truly either/or? ESPECIALLY something living, as I believe the bible is “living and active.” To place inerrancy on something mystically “alive” is a grave mistake imo.

  20. for me, the strangest doctrine I encountered in SBC blogs was the teaching that Christ is not to be the lens through which all sacred Scripture is to be seen . . .

    this has led to some remarkable teachings on patriarchy and on corporal punishment of small children (even babies and toddlers)

    I wonder how the SBC would change IF they re-instated Christ’s Words, teachings, and actions while He was among us as the central guide for interpreting all of sacred Scripture ??? There are a few things that have happened that I don’t think the ‘leadership’ could have got away with around the time of the ‘resurgence’, particularly in its treatment of women.

    Maybe they’ll change back to the old ways of seeing Christ as ‘central’ to the way they view all of Scripture. Maybe not. Hopefully, among some SBC members, they privately never abandoned Him as authoritative in favor of the carefully-crafted manipulation now flowing out of ‘the Bible says’.

  21. There’s a lot more to interpretation than personal opinion or perspective. There’s a difference between exegesis and eisegesis. Eisegesis is the process of interpreting a text in a manner which introduces ones personal perspective and bias. If my interpretation of the sentence “The cat sat on the mat” is dependent upon my guess as to the color of the cat or the type of mat, then I am engaging in eisegesis. If I am engaging in exegesis, then my interpretation must be limited to gramatical rules, word definitions, and perhaps historical and cultural context in which the text was written. Poetic and connotative rules may also apply. Based on these rules, I can’t interpret too much from “The cat sat on the mat”, such as predicting the future or how to have the best life now. If the text does not reveal answers based on solid exegesis, then the best answer is that the text is NOT clear on this. Exegesis may permit a set of potential equally plausible interpretations – all of which must be considered as valid.

  22. An analogy just came into my mind.

    What if a history book had a few things wrong. Columbus came across the Atlantic in 1490. Gettysburg was fought in 1862. A woman first landed on the moon.

    We wouldn’t necessarily view those as lies, not unless we thought there was some sort of agenda behind the errors. We’d probably begin doubting the rest of the history book and might look at the book more closely to see if there were other errors, but I’m not sure we’d think errors were any more than mistakes by whoever put the book together.

    Now, if we examined the history book more closely and discovered, “Hmm…those are about the only three mistakes I see, all the rest of it seems to hold up to scrutiny,” we still might not view the book as “inerrant,” but we’d at least know that most of it is true, and might even consider the mistakes minor in the scheme of things, especially if it was read more as a story than actual history. For instance, while dates might be off a bit, Columbus DID cross the Atlantic and Gettysburg WAS fought. Likewise, though it was actually a MAN who landed on the moon, the important thing is that a HUMAN did make it to the moon. (Unless you’re a Capricorn 1 kinda conspiracy person.)

    Historically, the Bible has held up pretty well to evidence that’s been uncovered over the past 150 years. More importantly, though, is…does it hold up well as a story? Do the inconsistencies (perhaps mistakes made by scribes in its writing/translation/etc.) ruin the overall meaning and intent and purpose? Is complete inerrancy necessary in a document that’s not meant to be a historical textbook? Do I have to believe the Bible is inerrant to get the point of the whole of it? Can I recognize there are a few errors and still view the important details as true?

    • Faulty O-Ring says:

      Well, to begin with, it is full of supernatural elements. What if your history book had claimed that the first astronauts flew to the moon on the backs of winged pigs?

      • In a sense, you’re right. The Bible, unlike a history book, is full of “unprovable” stuff. To claim the “unprovable” is inerrant is a bit of a stretch. Believing it’s “true” is different than believing it’s “inerrant.” At least it is in my feeble mind.

  23. Leon Schoeman says:

    At this stage I’ll read everything you write. Thank you for this sober piece.

  24. So are you insisting the Bible makes nothing clear, or rather, states nothing clearly?

  25. Jesus Christ says:

    And then Jesus came upon his disciples and said, “Brethren, I’ve heard it said among you that I am the Son of God and was sent to die for your sins.

    Brethren, may I asketh, who in the goddamn hell came up with that Neanderthal bullshit!!!!!!!????

    Blood sacrifice!!!!???? Are you out of your fucking minds with that idiotic caveman lunacy!!!!!!!!!!!??

    Brethren, I’d sooner lick Judas’ ass crack than be a part of your disgusting dying for sins horse shit!!!

    And the disciple whom Jesus loved the most said, ….”Well fuck you Jesus!! I always thought you were kind of gay anyway!!!

    Holy shit fellas!!! What the hell are we gonna do now!!?

    Hey, maybe Billy Ray will die for our sins. Anybody got Billy Ray’s phone number?”

    ——The Gospel of Sane, Rational Thought

  26. Alexis Wesley says:

    The Bible clearly says, “Leather-bound.” So… you know.