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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Bible: Inspired and Inerrant 4

The Bible and Canonization
    There are some who approach the Bible from an a-historical perspective. They only consider the 'supernatural' authorship. Some do not even know there was a time when the church discussed (debated) which books should be in the Bible. They do not know that in different parts of the early church world there were different collections which were thought to be Scripture (in fact that is still true today in the different branches of Christian faith). In some cases this is a function of ignorance and it is naive. In cases people think that canonization process does not matter. In the first two approaches, therefore, the only relevant data in "God inspired the Bible" and so here are the two approaches:
    1. I believe that the Bible (this English translation) in my hand is the Word of God. It is “given” by God to me (&/or the church) and it is the inspired Word of God, the process for getting to my hand is immaterial.
·        2. I believe that the Bible in my hand is the Word of God in an English translation of the Word of God from the original languages. The original written text is the inspired word of God and was free from error.The activities of copyists and translators are “human impurities” which might be present in the final text. The canonization process is immaterial.

  There is a range of other approaches which consider the hundreds of years of canonization to be important. The historical fact that the Bible "as we know it" was not in finished form for centuries means we have to think deeper and broader about what God is doing in revealing His Word to us. Those ancient discussions and debates about discerning which texts are Scripture are not only interesting but important; and impact our understanding of what 'inspiration' must mean. In fact, it broadens it to include much more. This approach might be:
·        3. The Bible in my hand is the Word of God in an English translation. The canonization process is part of God’s inspiration and/or the translation is part of the process of inspiration. That process matters and helps us understand more deeply the mystery and miracle of "inspiration." God's revelation and the gift of the Bible is a longer historical process than the final composition of a written document.
o   Canonization is also work of Holy Spirit in church to discover the texts which were authored by/inspired by the Holy Spirit and identified as authoritative (Word of God). This emphasizes the miraculous and divine component. [of course the different canons in different church traditions raises issues].
o   Canonization is a work of the Church inspired by the Holy Spirit to discover/recognize/establish the texts inspired by the Holy Spirit and defined as authoritative (Word of God). Folks who believe this take more seriously the human element in the process. Probably those who study church history and read ancient writers or documents from ancient church councils are more likely to see that human process in/through which God is at work. This is a balance of human/divine.
o   While the third approach would acknowledge that the work of Holy Spirit is a vital part of the inspiration process and is included in God’s action of “communicating” His Word.We will look at this later, suffice to say the "control" of the Holy Spirit is seen as less absolute. More of a gentle "push' or "pull" than operating levers on human puppets.
·        Because the third approach above raises questions about just how 'controlling' inspiration is we really have identified a fourth approach to the Bible. Probably, this is where the issue of "inerrancy" takes on a different meaning. It is why people can agree the Bible is "inspired" but come to different conclusions about exactly what that must mean.
  4. I believe the Bible in my hand is the Word of God, as “established” by a long human process of writing and canonization, all of it under the influence (influence can be as strong as God controlled human choice—or—to varying degrees of intensity, He gave wisdom, insight, discernment) of the Holy Spirit, so that what it contains can be called the Word of God because God directly communicates to us (church and individual) through it—or—God speaks in and through these words to us by the working of the Holy Spirit.
·        5. Just to provide a viewpoint which is widespread but not advocated here. It is pretty poplar in Liberal/Modernist/Progressive 'Christian' circles.They think that the writing and canonization processes are thoroughly human. Inspiration means something as strong as “The Holy Spirit ‘helps’ (has input but not control) in the process” to “the process is a purely human exercise by people seeking God.” In this view, there is an emphasis on political/power forces as work. The Bible is authoritative because the church makes it so but the church errs, including councils, so be careful! Many embrace a viewpoint that the Bible is suspect because it is archaic, Paternalistic, pro-slavery, homophobic, etc.! It is useful to them when it is aligned with current beliefs, especially like Social Justice and various oppressed populations (gender, race, sexual preferences, etc.). The prophets, teachings on love and tolerance, and social critique are especially valued. A stance of suspicion and resistance are generally preferred. 
   The range is obviously more complex than this, but it is fair to say that these five provide a basic starting place for thinking about what do I mean by "God inspired the Bible"...

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