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Friday, September 19, 2014

Bible:Inspired and Inerrant 2

It is common to say "God can do whatever He wants." This is basically true [digression about the law of non- contradiction aside]. However, God seems to have chosen to do what He wants and it is our task to understand what "is" rather than what "could have been". The world exists as God decided and He seems to behave in a regular pattern. As such, we should also remember that while "God can do whatever He wants" He is not regularly acting in ways which are inconsistent with how He previously acted. In other words, the world is not hopelessly random and unreliable.

Talking about the Bible, it is tempting to make claims and support them with the dictum, "God can do whatever He wants." Such talk can sometimes become almost magical. [God is amazing, but rarely is He doing magic.]The question for us is how He actually chose to act to create the Bible. That process seems to have been incarnate. In other words, the Bible was written by (God inspired) people. It did not float down from heaven in finished form and land on a rock somewhere.

It began long ago [NT 2,000 years, OT another 1,500 (or more) before Christ]. This very long process is mind numbing in its complexity. The documents written as letters or prayers were usually written and finished immediately. The narratives took lots more time: events took place, these events were remembered, spoken about and eventually recorded in a preliminary form. For varying amounts of time there was an ongoing process of compiling, combining and redacting the different documents and records, culminating in the final compositions. These so called "autograph" copies (or original) were endlessly hand-copied (and unintentionally and intentionally modified) by monks (and others) until the advent of the printing press, around 1500. There were also translations of these texts from original Hebrew to Greek (Jewish Bible), from Hebrew and Greek to Latin (whole Bible), and finally the translation into the vernacular text(s) of today. There is an existing Bible (Peshita) which was translated into Aramaic (ironically this was Jesus' spoken language)! The two versions of the Jewish Bible (which have some substantial differences in content) include the Greek Septuagint (cf. which was composed after Alexander the Great conquered "the world" and Jews in Egypt (Ptolemy) who only spoke Greek could not understand the Hebrew. This is the primary Bible used by NT writers!. There is also a Hebrew version (Masoretic text). The original Jewish Bible is in Hebrew, but the oldest version of the Masoretic text dates to 1000AD. So the Septuagint text dates to an earlier time! Scholars use both to try to figure out what the original was.

Now if you are getting nervous and wondering where I am headed (some Christians get worried about this kind of talk) let me remind you, I believe the Bible is God's Word. I take the Word seriously, and the Word often makes it clear that it is compiled from previous sources. Don't take my word for it, let's read some examples.

Luke 1 [Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eye witnesses and servants of the word, I too have investigated everything carefully from the very first, to write and orderly account for you...] makes clear that there were both verbal and written witnesses and that he engaged in a process of careful investigation so as to get the information he needed about Jesus. He said 'many' have set down such accounts, we can only speculate on how many and what they looked like. Clearly, Luke is not saying he sat down and "the words just flowed" because of an ecstatic experience of the Holy Spirit. [in fact, although I believe the Holy Spirit was very much active in the compositions, I must admit none of the Gospel authors make such a claim.]

On occasion the Biblical author makes a passing comment that "it is still here to this day" or "this city is now named XYZ but then it was named ABC." I have noted this sort of thing in Bible studies throughout the years. It is a sign that an author is from a later period.

Looking at the Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke are called the Synoptics because of their marked similarities (not found in John). Based on Luke's own words he had sources, so, is it possible he used Mark as a source to which he added other sources? (Mt and Lk have similar content not found in Mark which may be from another source, or an indication that Luke used Matthew? They also have material unique to them, or a preference in vocabulary). 

Certainly other records may have been used as sources in the Jewish Bible. The author of Samuel and Kings covers hundreds of years, ending with the exile. Is it not likely it was written during the exile, perhaps even because of the exile and the need to explain things? Whoever wrote it, starting with 1 Kings 14:19 there are over thirty references to "The Chronicles of the Kings of Judah" or "The Chronicles of the Kings of Israel", however, the text usually says "now the rest of the acts of King "XYZ" and all that he did, are they not found in the Chronicles..." This is not a reference to the Bible books called Chronicles, because they contain basically the same material and do not provide "all the rest of the acts."  Speaking of Chronicles, it identifies numerous other ancient sources [for a list see]. One example is 1 Chronicles 29:29 "Now the acts of King David, from first to last, are written in the records of the seer Samuel, and in the records of the prophet Nathan, and in the records of the Seer Gad." We certainly wish we had these numerous records and chronicles.

There are a couple others I want to mention. Numbers 21:14 makes a tantalizing reference to "The Book of the Wars of the Lord" which it seems to quote when describing the land of Arnon between Moab and Aram. The Book of Jasher (or The Book of the Upright) appears twice. The story about the miracle of the sun stopping in mid heaven (Joshua 10:13) seems to have been found there. Then in 2 Samuel  King David ordered a dirge for Saul and Jonathan "recorded in the Book of Jashar" be taught to the people of Judah. Numbers is about Moses (1300 BC?) and David is 1000BC so this Book of Jasher was in play for a long time, or the final author(s?) of these two books had it at their disposal.

What we call "the Prophets" are obviously compiled over a period of time. They are set in different times and some of their careers extended for decades. One example, Isaiah begins "the vision of Isaiah, son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah."  This introduction is written after the fact which makes one think it is the hand of the final redactor. Jeremiah 45:1 identifies Baruch son of Neriah as Jeremiah's scribe. Did Baruch also tell  the story of Azariah calling Jermiah a liar (ch 43)? There are numerous narrative sections about Jeremiah's trials and tribulations found scattered amongst the collection of prophetic oracles. And Jeremiah 52 and 2 Kings 24-25 seem to be the same story in two places. Is the same author responsible for both collections?

Such duplication is also found in the Christian Testament. 2 Peter 2 & 3 seems to contain parts of the letter from Jude. Colossians and Ephesian also have some overlap. And we have already pondered the relationship of the first three Gospels. 

So the Bible says (at least parts of) the Bible was compiled over time with editors combining material and using sources. There are also hints which are not so obvious to us, once being the Song of Victory sung by the Hebrew slaves with Moses in Exodus 15. Scholars tell us the Hebrew is archaic and different from the surrounding narrative (like the King James Version of the Bible is different from contemporary English). I am not good with Hebrew, but I do understand that languages change over time.

In the Gospels sometimes the authors leave actual words of Jesus in the original language (Mk 5:14, "talitha coumi' and Mk 15:34 the gut wrenching cry from the cross "eloi, eloi, lema sabachthani') remind us that the original Gospels are already translations of the actual words of Jesus. This is significant because sometimes there is a Greek play on words which does not exist in Aramaic. Translations always require editing. It is how language works.

This has been a long section. It is merely meant to illustrate that the Bible is compiled through a process, sometimes long and always human. The Bible does not claim to be written all at once by a single author. The Holy Spirit inspires humans. And humans remain human, even if inspired. More on that next!

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