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Friday, November 05, 2010

Is the Bible the Word of God Part 3

Then the LORD said to Moses, "Say to the Israelites, 'You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the LORD, who makes you holy. "'Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it must be put to death; whoever does any work on that day must be cut off from his people. (Exodus 31:12-14 NIV) 

How do you interpret the above verse? Is it inerrant, God said it, I believe it word of God? How you answer that question will decide your view of the Bible. Most however won’t be asked that question. They will refuse to even allow themselves to ask that question even as they read the similar verses which are also spoken as the instructions of the Lord. For example we could ask the same question of the following verse:

(Exodus 20: 22)  Then the LORD said to Moses, "Tell the Israelites this: 'You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven: (Exo 21:17 NIV)  "Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.

Granted it is pretty nasty to curse your parents but is it deserving of being put to death? I would think most people would think of that as overkill, but what do you do when that is a command from God? Did God ever take back these commands? If He did, which I can’t find anywhere, what would that say about God? Most will say that those are just commands to the theocracy of ancient Israel they don’t apply today. Why don’t they apply today, does not the word of God stand forever, is not God the same today and yesterday? With this introduction; with it’s thought questions in mind let us look at what a couple of prominent Christian organizations say about the inspiration of the Bible. I will use two websites. The first is a study by a noted conservative Bible teacher John MacArthur Our God-Breathed Bible and the other a popular apologetics website: CARM Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry

The CARM site article would be designed two counter my first to articles Is the Bible the Word of God part 1 and Is the Bible the Word of God part 2. The title in fact goes against my conclusion “The Bible isn't the word of God. It contains the word of God”, well almost as I would say it contains some of the words of God. Here is how the article begins:

One of the objections raised by critics of biblical inspiration is that the Bible is not the word of God but that it contains the word of God.  Is this accurate?  No.  First of all, this doesn't fit what the Bible says about itself.  The collection of 66 books that the Christian Church recognized as being inspired speaks as the very words of God in many places.
  1. "Thus says the Lord" occurs over 400 times in the Old Testament.
  2. "God said" occurs 42 times in the Old Testament and four times in the New Testament.
  3. "God spoke" occurs 9 times in the Old Testament and 3 times in the New Testament.
  4. "The Spirit of the Lord spoke" through people…
We should first correct the ever present condescension that such articles use to try and persuade people who don’t read carefully. The objections are not those of critics of biblical inspiration, they are critics of the fundamentalist form of biblical interpretation. You notice by the title it is not addressed to an atheist critic because they would not hold to the part about containing words of God. So the article begins by assuming their view to be correct and it is based upon some faulty thinking because of course the Bible does not say of itself that it is the word of God, not any particular book or the later collection of books we call the Bible makes the claim. Even the claim to the number of times the Lord is said to have said something does not make the whole Bible the word of God. But if one assumes that it does and that the whole Bible is the word of God where does that leave you when you are answering the introductory questions in this article? Much of the CARM article then goes into the claims that were already dealt with in my previous articles so we will move on to John MacArthur.
In this lesson we examine the subject of inspiration and we begin by considering the meaning of the term. The English word  Inspire is derived from the Latin  inspirare, which means "to breathe in." Second Timothy 3:16 says, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God" or, as it is translated in the New American Standard Version, "All scripture is inspired by God." The term,  inspiration, does not reflect the exact sense of  theopneustos, which is the term in our passage.  Theopneustos means "God-breathed"; the Scriptures are breathed out by God, not breathed in. So we may say that the Bible is the product of God breathing out His words so what He wanted written got written. In other words, the Scriptures are the product of divine breath assuring us that the sixty-six books of the Bible are the very words of God. 
This is the most popular verse used to claim the inspiration of the Bible thus the Bible is the word of God. It is a good verse dealing with inspiration but does not claim the Bible as the word of God. In fact when we read the whole text in its context we see that the inspiration is very broad.
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:14-17 NIV)
The scriptures are inspired to make you wise for salvation through faith in Jesus, they are useful for teaching, rebuking and training in doing right so we can do good work. That says nothing about the Scriptures being inerrant or literally true in all statements or historically or scientifically accurate. No, it says God gave the scriptures to make us wise for salvation. God is involved in the process of helping us understand salvation; to help us understand ourselves and God better so that we could come to faith in Jesus Christ. Stories which are what most of the Bible is; are wonderful techniques for instructing with ideas of how to behave and how not to behave. What causes trouble and what gets a person out of trouble. Does a story have to be literal or historical to teach a lesson? Well of course not we know that plainly from our own experience with the books we read. Myths like George Washington chopping down a cherry tree can bring lessons out of their fiction, as we have all heard the tale and can quote fictional George Washington, “I cannot tell a lie”. Stand up and take responsibility, a powerful concept from a simple fictional story.
MacArthur later in his article states:
So the men who wrote the Old and New Testaments were commissioned by God to write His words. Paul's words to Felix reinforce the fact that we can trust the Bible as the Word of God: "This I confess unto thee that, after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets" (Acts 24:14).

2. It includes all Scripture 
The Greek term  pasa can be translated "all" or "every." However, when Paul wrote 2 Timothy 3:16 the New Testament canon was not closed. Therefore some believe "all" can refer only to the Old Testament. But that interpretation places a time restriction upon "all" that is not warranted by the text. All Scripture is inspired of God whether it precedes or follows Paul's second epistle to Timothy. 

Jesus said "the scripture cannot be broken" (John 10.35). That includes Scripture that had been written, was being written, and would be written.
I really like the juxtaposition of this part of his article. MacArthur concludes one section with the quote about Paul believing all things which are written in the law and the prophets. But does he really? Think about what Paul says about circumcision.  He says several places that circumcision is nothing (1 Cor 7:19, Gal 5:6, Gal 6:15) and he even warns of those who cling to it:
Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh.  For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh-- (Philippians 3:1-3 NIV) 
What Paul believed about the law and the prophets was much different then his ancestors believed because Paul did not hold to literal verbal inspiration of the Scriptures, he reinterpreted them in the light of his relationship with Jesus Christ. Paul writes:
Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called "uncircumcised" by those who call themselves "the circumcision" (that done in the body by the hands of men)-- remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. (Eph 2:11-12 NIV) 
In the Bible we have to be very careful with the word “all” or “every”. Today educated people know that when people say “all” or “every”; they are making a generalization. Because if the use of “all” or “every” is meant to be taken literally the statement can be disproved with merely one example that contradicts the statement. The Bible actually has numerous contradictions of facts. The believer in inerrancy gets by these contradictions by saying that in the original manuscripts the errors don’t occur. This is however a faulty use of logic because the originals no longer exist so it is merely a gratuitous assertion.  
Paul tends to use “all” in a the generalization way for example:
At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion's mouth. (2 Tim 4:16-17 NIV) 
Or consider Paul saying:
…if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. (Col 1:23 NIV) 

The gospel had not then and  probably even now been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, it is an exaggeration, an exaggeration in the Bible. As the following article says of this verse:
(2) It must be recognized as well that the passages cited above are hyperbolic in nature. The word “hyperbole” derives from a combination of two Greek terms that signify “to throw above.” A hyperbole, then, is a figure of speech that contains an obvious exaggeration (with no intention of duplicity) for the purpose of emphasizing a truth. The Bible abounds with this figure, which, in most contexts, is perfectly obvious and draws no criticism.

For example, it was said of the pagan peoples east of the Jordan that “their camels were without number, as the sand which is upon the sea shore for multitude” (Judges 6:5; cf. 1 Samuel 13:5). That’s a lot of camels for a few Bedouin tribes!

Jehovah promised Abraham that his “seed,” i.e., offspring, would be “as the dust of the earth,” i.e., numberless (Genesis 13:16; cf. Galatians 3:29). But the earth could not possibly contain as many people as there are specks of dust upon the planet. This is obvious hyperbole.
As with all information the Bible calls for interpretation and the presuppositions with which we come to the Bible will either make us see it for what it is and derive the important principles or they will call us to make unrealistic claims about how the book came to be and how it must be interpreted. As a final example this is what MacArthur says about the exegesis of the Bible:
Many seminaries and churches teach that God gave thoughts and not specific words to the writers of Scripture. This would mean, for example, that when Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 13 the only thing God gave to Paul was some general thoughts on the subject of love. The words of the text we owe to Paul. This view is sometimes referred to as thought or concept inspiration.

Now this position denies not only verbal inspiration, but inerrancy as well. Of course that makes exegesis futile. There would be no reason to do a word-by-word exposition if you're convinced that the words are merely human and not divine.
This is, as with most of the fundamentalist approaches to the Bible foolish. First the Bible was written in one of three languages and when translated the words used translate into various English words and even in the original language one word could have multiple meanings. But this is what verbal inspiration beliefs lead to and the confusion multiplies by all of these various assertions which are incorporated into the Bible to become the presuppositions fundamentalists and traditionalist use to interpret the Bible. There comes a time when we need to realize that we have to be reasonable in our approach to the Bible and see that it does exaggerate and make claims that cannot possibly be true. That even the perception of God changes through it pages as people learn more and knowledge increases. We can’t go back to the primitive concepts and literalism that was once used to understand the Bible. And yes it calls for human intelligence and reason and understanding just as everything else in life calls for us to think. That is not a bad thing however, and let’s be glad that even though in the stories God called for rather nasty things we don’t have to carry them out as if they are the enduring word of God that never changes because really otherwise we would all have to end up killing each other just over our breaking the Sabbath. The subject of keeping the Sabbath reminds us of the old Jewish prophecy which as quoted in this article
"Rabbi Judah said in the name of Rav: If all Israel had observed the very first Sabbath, no nation or tongue would have ever ruled over her…Rabbi Yohanan said, following Rabbi Simeon bar Yohai: Were Israel to observe two Sabbaths punctiliously, they would be redeemed immediately [BT Shabbat 118b]."
Is the Bible Really the Word of God Part 1

Is the Bible Really the Word of God Part 2

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