Thursday, January 05, 2006

The Inerrancy of Scripture

Today in my moms store (Treasures Christian Store) Some people who are very dear to me walked in. Though they’re very dear to me they are not as close to me as they used to be so I’m not sure they quite understand my constant struggle to find the right words for what I’m trying to say. Our conversation ended up being about the inerrancy of scripture and they probably left thinking I was a heathen and that I didn’t believe the scripture was inerrant or authoritative. While I’m still dealing with these issues I am sure that the Bible is authoritative, I believe that it’s God breathed in at least some sense of the word and I know that it’s true. Is it inerrant? This question is one that I have trouble dealing with. I

I don’t believe there are mistakes, per say, but some things about the Bible are not literal some things are allegorical, mystic, and even poetic. Because of the different formats and literary genres we can’t just read the Bible “for what it says.” What happens all too often is people try to take a poetic passage of scripture and make it scientific or historical. A good example is Genesis chapter 1. What most people think of, when they hear anything about Genesis one is the line “God created the heavens and the Earth.” Now for brevity’s sake we won’t analyze the entirety of the passage but you’ll find that, although God creating the heavens and the earth seems like the main point to us, it wasn’t in the time it was written. It was a given that God created the heavens and the earth, that was the only accepted explanation at the time especially among the Hebrew people to whom the Torah was written. If you read Genesis 1 in its genre, you’ll come to understand it less as an explanation for how God created and more as a demonstration of the power of God and a description of the “good” creation He made. It’s poetry that repeats over and over again the swiftness of God’s creative process and the good of the creation itself. This focus has been lost in our culture as we’ve, over and over again, taken the scripture out of context and made Genesis 1 a scientific document. This passage does not tell us the world was created in six literal days; it tells us that the world was created, ultimately, “good” and with no more effort than to say a word and it was all done by a creative God. To read this verse for what it says, you may miss the point.

Usually when someone refers to the Bible as inerrant and god breathed they mean that the Bible is literally from God without the interference of the scripture writers. This just doesn’t work. The Bible was written in popular format for its time in language and writing styles exclusive to the writers themselves. The Bible was obviously written by all different people and there was obvious “interference.” This should be a good thing to us. It shows that God doesn’t confine Himself. He trusts His people to write from their heart the things that are true. The Bible is a beautiful compilation of heartfelt and true writings. But the Bible is not literal in all cases.

Before I understood that the Bible was something historically real and written from by people, not just God, I had a much smaller appreciation for it. The bible still profoundly effected my life but it was not real to me. It was a disconnected set of rules and cute stories that God sent down to guide my life. I still remember the first time the Bible really felt real. Mike Devries (check out his blog) was talking about God as a “pursuing lover” of His people. He told us about the book Song of Solomon and all I remember is that I realized that this book wasn’t just written to me. It wasn’t disconnected at all but much more connected than I ever thought it could be. Real people wrote the bible in real time periods in real places to real people and in real circumstances. Something prompted the writing of the scriptures and it wasn’t just some sign from God to the writer telling them that they should write. It was real concerns and real emotions. I finally started reading the Psalms, for example, as songs from someone’s heart that were provoked by real fears and hopes. The bible became, to me, something tangible and I never want to lose that again. Whether or not something written in scripture happened or not is not truly my main concern. I’m concerned with what brought someone to write such a thing. They must have believed that it was somehow true. John must have believed that Jesus was a healer so he wrote about it. Because he passed that down to us now we believe that Jesus is a healer. The scripture’s accuracy does not hang on whether or not it happened but whether or not it happens.

17 comments:

Ashley said...

I cannot begin to imagine how much "fun" that has to be to be talking to people who address something like that. It is so important that we remember that the Bible was written by someone in a certain time period for a certain purpose and that sometimes it is any genre of writing. Good thoughts Wes!

A Human Bean said...

You said it perfectly. I wish more Christ-followers could get this. It is funny to me that I did not learn the truth of this until I went to seminary (a conservative seminary even.) The Bible becomes more powerful when we begin to understand what it really is, not less.

Jason S said...

You said.."The scripture’s accuracy does not hang on whether or not it happened but whether or not it happens."

How can the scriptures be God breathed if they relate to events that possibly never happened? Can God lie?

WES ELLIS said...

Well Jason,
I first of all want to clarify that I believe that the scriptures are true. They are beautifully accurate historically and practically.

The stories told in the Old Testament and especially in the Torah are based on Oral tradition. The stories existed for centuries. The stories purpose was to give Israel identity, to inform them of where they'd been so that they might decide where they are going. What we have to question, every time we read it, is whether the point that was being made needed historical accuracy for it to be conveyed.

for example; the point of the person of Abraham, in the book of Genesis, is to explain the covenant between God and His people. To not only explain it's origin (Abraham) but it's nature of being passed "from generation to generation" (to Isaac and Jacob). The stories were true. An actual covenant was made to God's people and it was passed from generation to generation. With this all in mind we must ask, did it have to be a man named Abraham? Does the story have to be 100% historically accurate for it to be true? Would God be lying if it wasn't historically accurate?

The point of the Bible is that the stories are true, not weather they actually happened.

As you'll notice this opens up a whole new series of questions. And that's ok. If you read the Bible with an open heart then it'll always bring up tons of questions, possibly more questions than answers.

What you'll find, if you study history, is that there is a great majority of stories in the bible that are well verified by history and some that have very little real historical backup at this point. If history repeats itself then we will soon find explanations for the stories that can't yet be verified (like much of the book of Joshua). Abraham's described to have lived in a real place (Haran, Genesis 12.4) that we know really existed. This suggests to me that he was probably real. There are also other things that suggest his historicity which we will not discuss here. But we still have to ask the tough questions. What if there was no historical verification to scripture?

We have this beautiful concept called faith. It is one I will always base my life around. I have faith that the Bible is true. Not blind faith (I don't study for no reason) but faith indeed. And it is with faith that we approach the Bible. Faith is a non-negotiable.

Jason S said...

You said..."Would God be lying if it wasn't historically accurate?"

Of course He would be lying if it wasn't historically accurate. That is the definition of a lie...saying something that you know isn't accurate.

WES ELLIS said...

Jason,
If the point which is being made doesn't calls for an explanation of something then a simple story which never happened can be very acurate. It's an explaination, a description, not a historical account.

Some things in the bible are meant for historical explanations and some are not.

Jason S said...

So, who getes to decide which stories are historically accurate, the Jesus Seminar?
Why don't we just believe what scripture has to say about itself, that it is all God breathed?
If Matthew traces Jesus' ancestry back to Abraham, well, I would have to believe that he was a real person. If Paul goes through an entire discourse of how men obtained righteousness before the law by using Abraham as the model, then I believe he was real. If God refers to Himself as the God of Abraham, then I believe that there was a man named Abraham.

WES ELLIS said...

I'm glad you believe that... so do I. But it may not be as necessary or obviouse as you think.

Jason S said...

Wes- Where do you draw the line then? Can one say that the gospels are not necessarily accurate describing an individual named Jesus of Nazareth? Is it ok to believe that such a person never really existed, but rather a story was told to demonstrate how much God loved the world?
Who gets to make these decisions, and by what authority?

WES ELLIS said...

That's a very good question, Jason. I don't get to draw the line, unfortunately. Someone has to make their own decisions about these things. What i mostly concerned with is what the text is really trying to tell me.

When it comes to Jesus it may be alot more necessary to believe He was a historical figure. In fact you'd be hard pressed to find someone who doesnt believe He was historical. It would be impossible to explain many things about our history without a man named Jesus who died and rose again. If he did not live He wouldn't have had followers, if He did not rise again they wouldn't have kept following (no one would follow a dead Messiah... read the Maccabees). But it's not my belief that he came along time ago that makes me His follower, it's the fact that I believe he is here now and calls us to follow Him now. Someone can actually follow Jesus without a history lesson.

For me it is also important that Jesus came into history because I believe the Kingdom of God is here. I believe that the Kingdom of God is historical reality either now and/or in the future. Jesus coming into history helps make sense of that. Heaven is not some transcendant "pie-in-the-dky." It is here for us and it will continue to change the world within history.

I don't get to draw the line, it seems to me that the Bible does. Scripture, if we know it well enough, will reveal what is truly important within itself. You must always ask yourself what the text is really trying to say. And we must alway treat the text as it is and not make it whatever we want it to be.

You'll find in reading my blog I usually interperet scripture historically. I always ask the question, what did this mean to the writer in his place in history? Because we cannot argue that the writer didn't live, he must have, he wrote. I also ask what did it mean (in case of a story) for the character (Jesus, Paul, Moses, etc.) in his/her place in history. becuase the writer must have written with that question in mind (weather the story actually happened or not).

What cannot be argues is that the text itself is historical, it was written by a real person in real history. And we must always examine the text consiouely.

Jason S said...

You said.."What i mostly concerned with is what the text is really trying to tell me. "

What if you were never born? Would the text mean something completely different?

The Jews have claimed to be sons of Abraham for over 3500 years, yet you seem to think that it is possible that he never existed. How is this any different than the historical Jesus?

Keep in mind, when Jesus said to His followers that the kingdom was in their midst, He was referring to Himself which represented the kingdom of God. Now, those that are followers of Christ have the kingdom of God in the form of the Holy Spirit indwelling them.

At the same time, Jesus said that His kingdom was not of this world. What He meant by that was that His eternal Kingdom is heaven which He was about to return to.

Finally, it is clear that there is a literal heaven, which is why Jesus told His disciples that He was preparing a place for them in His Father's house.

WES ELLIS said...

I have a few issues with what you said but I'll just point out one.

When Jesus said the Kingdom of God was in their midst or "at hand" he was not refferng only to himself. If you study this topic you'll find that the kingdom of heaven talk was nothing new. He was referring to a new way of life and a new reality. I encourage you to study the subjest.

Jason S said...

I have studied the subject. If Jesus said plainly that His kingdom was not of this world, I believe Him.

Satan is called the god of this world. Christ will return to set up His kingdom at the end of the age as the book of Revelation clearly describes.

WES ELLIS said...

Clearly?

Ok we'll have to agree to disagree because it's just not worth it for us to go at it. There are different views about all these things but in the end its all speculation. I just hope that people don't all think the futurist perspective is the only perspective.

Jason S said...

Rev 1:3 Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near."
Since the prophecies have not yet taken place, they have to be in the future.

WES ELLIS said...

thanks for your enlightening opinion but I humbly disagree that it has to be in the future... it might be but it doesn't have to be. I hope you'll examine Revelation in context.

Pastor Art said...

Hello Wes been awhile

Your points are important and well stated. Yes, this understanding that an isolated reading of the text aided by the subjective influence often named as the Holy Spirit devoid of any of the given understandings of the discipline of literature or rejection of historical setting or this list can go on, is faulty. Communication of thoughts even the thoughts of Yahweh have a context. Words have meanings understanding those meanings develop understanding and understanding engenders decision. Our Creator built this into us therefore He knows how to convey His heart and mind to us. He also understands the consequences of the Fall - the ever digressing degenerating capacities of man. Therefore He set His message into a situation where the conditions were closed and definable therefore we need study that culture and its conditions ect for accurate understanding. He understood that the men He chose to write would write in various different styles. This is a plus not a detriment. Some things need prose to convey some poetry some story or parable none of these styles take away from Yahweh’s inspiration. However to reject this understanding and minimize the study of Scripture using the disciplines needed to understand the mind of Christ and hear the calling and directing of the Holy Spirit is to reject Yahweh’s Sovereign workings in the lives of men.

It is important to understand that the truth is conveyed in the text but the truth is the point and could be said in a different context. In fact that is how we need to communicate the closed truth pictured in the confined cultures of Scripture to living cultures that is what makes the Word alive! That it transcends historicity.
Pastor Art