I think this is going to be my last post on the subject for a while. If you want to understand more on a subject such as this there are other authors/theologians that hold similar views (as far as I know) on the Bible. One to try if you want an easy read is Brian McLaren in A New Kind of Christian and also a Generous Orthodoxy. Another person, though a lot harder to read is Karl Barth is his Church Dogmatics (early 20th century theologian).
I was asked a few questions in my last post by Ollie, so I thought I would summarize my beliefs with a brief explanation, but hopefully my past 8 or so posts helped set me up for this one.
Does the bible have contradictions?
I would say yes. I could point you to numerous examples, For example:
Who incited David to count the fighting men of Israel, Satan or God (2 Sam 24:1; 1 Chron 21:1)
In the same two chapters, how many years was threatened of famine; seven or three?
How old was Ahaziah when he became king; 22 or 42 (2 Kings 8:26, 2 Chron 22:2)
Was John the Baptist Elijah or no? (John 1:19-21, Matthew 17:10-13)
Obviously this is very few. However, I have a large list of them if anyone wants me to send them to them. I’m not by this trying to show that the bible is wrong, or shouldn’t be revered. I’m trying to show that the view that the bible is without error is inaccurate, there are hundreds of errors. From different numbers, to different wording, to different people being present at certain times to complete contradictions the bible has all kinda of errors. This is a reason that I can’t believe that the Bible is this holy book that floated down from heaven directly from God’s spirit. The point isn’t to say that the bible is wrong, the points is that a perfect God did not write or inerrantly inspire these text or NONE of these errors would exist and it would be 100% inerrant and infallible.
Do I believe that the same errors existed in the original manuscripts?
Once again I would have to answer yes. There is simply too many of them for all of them to be by copy errors and we have way too many manuscripts that all have the same text on them. Some however do hold the view that the original authors of the original text on the original manuscripts were the ones inspired and only the original manuscripts can be considered the Word of God, but we don’t have any of those anyway so what would be the point?
I don’t think the point is ever if it has errors in it. Anyone who actually studies the text can’t deny these errors. The errors never change the point though. They are not serious enough errors that it invalidates our story. The point of pointing out errors is to show that it didn’t come from God directly to us.
Is the bible God-breathed?
This is one of the more difficult questions I think to answer. I’ve heard it explained like this which makes sense to me. In the same way that Adam was God breathed, and the disciples were Jesus-breathed so is the bible. In other words the disciples had Jesus breathe on them and then they went out in power with the message of the gospel. Adam had God breathe on him and it gave him life, freedom and purpose. I think the bible fits into these categories. The bible is God breathed in meaning that it has power (because of the gospel that is found in it), that it brings freedom (because of the gospel that is in it), and that it gives life (because of the gospel that is found in it) and it has a purpose (because it is God’s story). Was Adam perfect, inerrant or infallible? Were the discples inerrant or infallible?
What about all the verses that lay claim to its authenticity?
First, its kind of hard to give credit to a book because itself gives it credit. It’s circular and needs more than that for its claim to hold. Second, the bible never existed when each individual books were written. Third, the bible doesn’t give itself nor are they found anywhere in the bible terms such as inerrant, infallible or authoritative; they are words the church has applied to them. Forth, most claims talking about scripture are talking about the Hebrew Bible anyway, which almost all Christians would argue that most ‘laws’ in there aren’t for today anyway (which is odd if it is the inerrant Word of God, how do we pick and choose which ones we follow or not?)
Is the bible accurate as a historical document?
Of all the texts in the entire world of any writing at all I would put my trust in biblical documents before anything else. Thousands upon thousands of texts have been found and compared and what we have is more probably and more likely than any other texts in the history of the world The only thing we need to keep in mind is that most if not all authors of biblical text were Jewish, which would lead to a very ‘sided’ story of Jewish history.
I believe with all my heart that the God that created everything that we see around us is the same God that we are trying to understand through all of this. I believe that this God is a personal God that is in touch with his creation and working through it. I believe that the bible is only a fraction of what God has done in history and that he has done much more and will continue to. I believe that the God I serve is the God of history the now and the future.
What is the bible then?
The bible is the most remarkable, amazing, congruent, beautiful, bottomless, layered, consistent text that the world has ever known. It tells a story. It is the story of God. From creating Adam and eve to the flood to the covenant with Abraham to the exodus of the Israelites to the rise and fall of Babylon and the falling back and coming back to God of the Israelites. To the peak of Israelite history which is Christ where he saves mankind from itself and brings the Kingdom of God among us and gives us hope for the Kingdom of God to come. To the expansion of the first Christians all over the world. To the ethical and pastoral letters of Paul encouraging churches to keep the example that Christ gave and helping them live it out practically. This is our bible. It is the story that we are part of. We are nothing without that story. Without the story we will not find meaning or purpose or understanding. Without that story we would never know Christ. This story is the story that we are in the midst of now. The story is still unfolding in our lives and the church today. Our goal is not to box up the bible and study it like it is part of the past as something we need to understand better. Our goal is to let it loose in all of our lives and continually live out the story in our daily lives. The bible wasn’t meant to end at John, it was meant to unfold into our lives and into the future.
What place should it have in our lives?
The bible tells us about God. It shows us what he has done in the past and shows us what he has done to bring about reconciliation to him. Without this knowledge we aren’t going to be able to fully live in step with the lives that we were created to live. This isn’t knowledge like one day you know 2+2=4, instead it’s like the knowledge of the entire subject of math. You will never get to the depths of the bible and God’s story. It is not simply a equation to learn but a subject to chase after. The more you know and live it the more you are living in tune with God’s plan not just now but all through history. Study it, live it, understand it, question it, expand it, revel in it, rejoice in it but for heaven’s sake; don’t worship it.
So in short, I believe that the Bible is the God-breathed historical redemptive narrative that sums up, encapsulates, points to and reveals the authoritative, inerrant and infallible Word of God who is Jesus Christ.
4 thoughts on “The Bible: How Then Shall We Understand It?”
This entry interests me because I’ve “grown up” thinking the bible to be “inerrant” and thought that was simply the answer. I respect your thoughts and, as I said earlier, enjoy digging into exactly what it is that I believe.
I’ve believed in inerrancy up to this point because I’ve heard strong arguments for it and every Christian that I trust and know well believes in inerrancy. I’ve also been exposed to the concept academically and have some old notes and texts that I’m currently refering back to. I don’t have enough of a working knowledge to expound on the “why this and that” off the top of my head, though.
I don’t know if this blog is the forum that you intend to use to converse back and forth on a topic like this but I do have a few questions regarding your point of view.
My first question is this: If we say that the bible could and did have errors as originally written, how can we say that it might be historically or scientifically inaccurate but should be trusted in matters concerning spritual things, Christ even? If the orginals had errors, how do we discern what is true?
P.S. I will add that I haven’t read McLaren. He may very well address my question. I more enjoy talking and working through my faith and beliefs with brothers, however. Please believe that I’m asking to illuminate my own understanding, not with the belief that I stand on higher ground.
I dont know who this Ollie guy is Nathan but I like him. When do I get to meet you Ollie?
Ollie, through everything I have read of yours, you speak with the up-most respect. I love it. Maybe some day you can rub some off on me.
I was thinking the same thing when Nathan was speaking about the bible having errors. I was given this PDF from a friend last year called 101 contradictions in the bible. I went through the first 6 and found them to them to be accurate. The contradictions were small (and to be honest insignificant) but it does beg the question that if those things are wrong what else is wrong? Like you, every person I have even received guidance from has viewed the bible as an answer book that is perfect and flawless.
To be honest, I am not all that worried if people call the bible imperfect. There is so much amazing stuff in there about how to live a life to the fullest that if people want to sit around and argue about its authenticity and not follow Christ because they cant get past a view hiccups then I think they have missed the point.
I don think God needs us to run around defending his words anyway. I am a true believer of speaking with actions. Thats what has surprised me about some people when we question things of the bible and about God. Do we really think for a second that God is worried about us deconstructing him? I would like to think that the creator of the universe and of me would not be thinking I hope they dont talk about that subject on the blog and ask those kinds of questions, they might stump me.
I am sure God has us all figured out no matter how smart we think we are. What I love about debating and discussing God is interacting with people. Seeing people grow, asking questions, being enlightened and coming back thirsty. That inspires me. I dont care who you are, when your talking about God, its exciting.
Talking about it now makes me want to go and research more. But its so much more than debating and researching. I love taking what you learn into action. We have a Coffee Lodge here in town (ok, we have like 6, they are like really nice Tim Hortons) and you wouldnt believe the conversations that take place in there. You would think its a church all into itself. Even when I go out to bars (sit down ones) Conversations just seem to explode. I love it.
I seem to meet people thought that are so set on only talking about it one way the right way but its the interaction that God loves (I hope he doesnt mind me speaking on his behalf)
But maybe I am wrong, maybe it is all about one way. One way to look at it, one way to talk about it, experience it, live it. Way, wrong or not, I am enjoying every second of it. Ollie, hook me up with an email some time: [email protected]
Hey Ollie, again thanks for the comments.
I’ve grown up thinking all the ‘regular’ evangelical beliefs of the bible also. That it is the inerrant, infallible, authoratative Word of God that it is sharper than any two edged sword etc. So to even write posts like i write, I’m wary, cause I know it is heresy to many evangelicals, however, i cannot be untrue to my experience and my studies.
I think the point is never how many soldiers were attacking cities, or even how many people showed up at the tomb, or what was written on the cross, or if Pilate was mean or not (all discrepencies); but the point is the meat of the story; that he did die; that he did rise. Sure these are all interesting topics and would be interesting to discuss and study, but it should never take away from the cornerstone, all those things have absolutely nothing to do with the saving work of Christ in our lives.
Maybe because they are errors, they were never that ‘central’ to the story anyway. For instance, why is there two creation accounts in Genesis? There are opposing texts right within two chapters, in the order and other things. What if the point was never the order of creation but instead the fact that GOD CREATED, the rest are details.
So now you are right, the question is how do we discern what is true or not, but before we do that, i think we need to really try and ask God what needs to be asked that, because some things, whether true, mythological or not true at all don’t really matter all that much in the long run.
I was planning on quoting that soon in an upcoming post, but i thought it fit.
Generally speaking I agree completely with your view, but the way you talk about it makes you SOUND heretical. Maybe reframing the old the language (always a good post-“modern” exercise) to fit new ideas would be a better approach?