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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Bible: Inspired and Inerrant 1

The last few weeks I have been addressing a question asked of me in Sunday School. "Did God write the Bible?" With a bit of discussion we determined the question is really "Is God the Author of Sacred Scripture?" which led then to the title for this series: Is the Bible inspired and inerrant? Is it the Word of God?

Now this discussion is difficult because it can alienate other Christians. People I know and love have walked away from active fellowship because of it. So if you are not interested in thinking about it, or have strong beliefs which you want to reconsider, I suggest you leave without further reading. Check back in a couple of weeks when another topic is being discussed. Yet, I do think it is fair to ask, "What do you Christians mean when you say these things?" I would like to begin with viewing some of the options... 

The Word of God: Subjective or Objective Genitive (Gk Grammar)
tou theou is Greek for "of God." They had no apostrophe s ('s) to indicate possession. However, just like in English there are two ways of reading "of God"
·        Subjective: God’s Word
·        Objective: Words about God
·        Bible as Word of God means both, but this already demonstrates the problem we face with language. Perhaps it is more easily illustrated by
·        “Love of God” (it can mean God's love for us or our love for God) and “Works of God” (things God wants us to do or the actions of God). Without jumping ahead, I can tell you that interpretation cannot be overlooked in any discussion on inspiration and inerrancy!
  The first question is what do we mean by the word "Bible."? The word Bible is an English word taken from the Greek language (biblos meaning book). In our usage it is a special term referring to a unique book. However, some of us mistakenly assume it is one book the same way that "To Kill a Mockingbird" is one book. While there is a unity in Scripture there is also a diversity. In fact, the Bible is actually "the Library" of assorted ancient documents. Genesis and Matthew are not written by the same humans at the same time. Probably the actual writing is spread out over a thousand years and more! In the ancient world this was not hard to see, they had scrolls. However, we have everything between two covers. Many people, therefore, do not really think about the complexity of the canon of scripture (or books of the Bible). They also do not know it was written in other languages than English. In fact, "the Bible" was in "process" for many centuries (and continued to be in flux with the Reformation and the discussion of which books are in and which are out of the Catholic version). What criteria determined inclusion? Reading Eusebius' Church History from over 1500 years ago we know that there were debates about many of the writings which are now in our Bibles (and a few which were thought by some to be scripture but were later excluded so that most Christians have never heard of them; the Shepherd of Hermas for example). This is not going to be a history of those debates and decisions, except to acknowledge they took place.
  There are three basic approaches to the formation of "the Bible" into an established canon. The "naive" approach is ignorant of it. Some people do not know anything of the history of the church affirming a set collection. The second option is the "apathetic" approach, they know that such a process took place but they do not care. For both of these types God's action in authoring the Bible is all that matters. The third approach includes a wide variety of variations, but all of them think that the process matters and must be included in discussions of Divine Authorship, inspiration and inerrancy. I call this approach "incarnational" and "historical" while the first two are more "divinity" and "a-historical."

  Each of us is invited to consider the history of the formation of the Bible, from the completion of an individual text (like Romans or Jeremiah) to inclusion in the final collection (in the Bible). Should it matter as we contemplate the actual meaning of the terms "God's Word" or "Inspiration"? How does that process (which is ecclesial, i.e., Church centered) affect our own understanding of God's participation? And what does it mean that the Church identified these certain writings and excluded other writings (rejecting some as heresy and relegating others to 'pious reading' but not authoritative).

   Please note, I am not denying or affirming anything yet. I declare the Bible to be God's Word. I believe it is true and inspired. I am just asking that we consider what these words mean.

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