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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Drawing the Line: Bible 3

I believe the Bible is God's Word. It is authoritative. It is divinely inspired.
Yet, I have questions. I do not want to join those on the left who nit pick the Scripture and seek every opportunity to produce reasons to not believe the Word. On the other hand, what type claim can I make for the Bible?

I believe that much of today's problem comes from adopting a certain world view, one which is foreign to the Bible. In arguments about the creation accounts or Noah's ark, I have come to see that we are sometimes asking questions which the Bible is not designed to answer. Our view of history (as fact) is not accurate to the reality of historical writing. The post-modern criticism has some truth to it. Our perspectives very much impact how we see things. I think God is communicating to us in The Word, but we must remember that it is written in a time and place where the world view is different. This is not an attack on the Bible, it is an honest attempt to actually hear what the Bible is saying.

There are two things I want to briefly offer for reflection. One, the claim that every single word is placed there by God. If that is true, then why are there alternative readings? We do not know what the correct reading is in isolated places. There are conflicts between texts. That is why there are places where footnotes occur in our English Bibles to inidcate "other ancient authorities..." For example, in 1 Corinthians 1:4 some texts say "thanks to God" while others say "thanks to my God." In 1 Corinthians 1:14 some say "I am thankful" while others say "I thank God." Now, this does not lead me to toss my Bible away. In fact, when this sort of thing is used as proof that the Bible is not true I find myself saying, "Are you kidding me?" The presence or absence of the possessive pronoun destroys the authority of Scripture?  But on the other hand, if as some say, God is so concerned about every word and letter in the Bible why did He not preserve it?

If authority rests on claims about inerrancy which make an issue out of every word, then I certainly understand why so many young Evangelicals have given up the faith. We make them believe something which seems to be contradicted by their own observation. In a culture which emphasizes each person's autonomy that is a recipe for disaster. We see it in the widespread decline of Church attendance. I think we need to think through our claims about what inspiration means and what exactly the implications are.

A second issue, also taken from 1 Corinthians 1:14-15. ("I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.") I have no problems with this. Paul is making a theological point and wants to illustrate it by refering to baptisms he administered. In identifying those persons, he suddenly remembers someone else. It then seems that he realizes that this is beside the point and he goes on to say, "For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the Gospel..." But if we make extreme statements about Biblical infallibility and inerrancy the question is raised. Is Paul inerrant in saying he does not know whether he baptized anyone else? Is the correction about the household of Stephanas an indication that the previous claim about Crispus and Gaius was in error? What about the switch from enumerating the baptismal record and sort of minimizing its importance in light of his preaching ministry? I understand why the word "Scritpural inerrancy" is just not helpful here.

Once again, I do not raise these issues as a clarion call to reject Scriptural authority. What I am doing is raising the question of how to understand it. There are Bible believers who have, I think, misunderstood the results of Divine inspiration. I think there are truth claims made in conformity with Positivism and Modernistic understanding of truth (as mere observable accuracy) by well meaning believers which produce major problems for contemporary souls struggling to find God in an aggressively secular world.

I have read and studied too much Scripture to not marvel at the intricacies of the interrelationship between texts. I have been touched to my core in places. But I also know that when I hear some claims about the truth of the Bible, it seems to be too much hype. The sickness of my soul has been the horror of finding those instances (like in 1 Corinthians Paul) and wondering about the truth of the Bible. I refuse to gloss over it and I refuse to pretend it isn't there. I do not always know where to draw the line on trustworthy, true and inerrant. I believe. This morning I will preach the Biblical text, twice. I will proclaim it as God's word. I will listen to what He says. And I will trust His message. But I will also continue my journey in understanding what the Bible is and what Truth means.

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