How might we understand what the Bible is?

As we’ve seen, the Bible, especially the Hebrew Scriptures (aka, the Old Testament), is a complex phenomena, with different authors, from different times. The text was demonstrably not static, likely up until at least the second century after Jesus. And these revisions do actually affect the meaning at times. Additionally, different books in the Bible appear to speak contrary to that of other books. So what we have is a collection of works from different, occasionally contrary voices built up over centuries. Again, this is not some sort of literary theory. This is what the physical manuscript evidences tells us. (Although, as we saw with Judges 6, the textual evidence does indeed at times support the assertions of higher criticism).

If we are to understand the Bible as having some sort of authority in the life of both the Church and the individual believer, how might that look? For the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, authority is inextricably bound up with inerrancy, as the conclusion to the initial five statements declares,

5. The authority of Scripture is inescapably impaired if this total divine inerrancy is in any way limited or disregarded, or made relative to a view of truth contrary to the Bible’s own; and such lapses bring serious loss to both the individual and the Church.

But to tie authority to the inerrancy of scripture ends up being unsustainable.  As the past several posts have argued, authority can neither rest on the belief that the specific words were inspired, since the words of the books have never been consistent, nor on some putative original, in whose words that authority would reside since there often never was an original in the sense that the CSBI needs there to be.

Now some may argue that this makes the Bible merely a human book, a collection of writings that are no different than those of other ancient authors, whether Homer or the semi-anonymous scribes who recorded and updated the Gilgamesh epic.  But even if the Bible is a collection of works by human writers, it does not need to be merely human. So the question becomes, what does inspiration mean in this situation? Is inspiration conveyed by the qualitative (what it is) or the quantitative (lack of errors) nature of scripture?

While the authors of the CSBI assert both, in truth we see that for them the nature of inspiration dictates that it be inerrant. In the short statement after the preface, we see that scripture is understood to be a derivative of God himself.

1. God, who is Himself Truth and speaks truth only, has inspired Holy Scripture…

2. Holy Scripture, being God’s own Word…

3. The Holy Spirit, Scripture’s divine Author…

4. Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault…

The progression is pretty clear. God is true and he inspires Scripture, which makes scripture God’s own Word, with the Holy Spirit as its Author. Therefore, Scripture must be without error or fault. But inerrancy is an assertion based on a particular understanding of what the authors of the CSBI think inspiration should mean in turn based on the presupposition that God is not just the ultimate author, but the proximate one.

Article VIII, which we have already looked at in a previous post, asserts that even though God may have utilized human authors, “causing them to use the very words that He chose,” He somehow does not override their persons to do so.

God in His Work of inspiration utilized the distinctive personalities and literary styles of the writers whom He had chosen and prepared.

We deny that God, in causing these writers to use the very words that He chose, overrode their personalities. (Article VIII).

This actually makes sense when viewed from a perspective in which God is absolutely sovereign over all things and yet somehow does not override the individual will. This is, however, self-contradictory. It is not a mystery but rather, incoherent (cf. Roger Olson’s recent post, A Crucial but Much Ignored (or Misunderstood) Distinction for Theology: “Mystery” versus “Contradiction”). So how else could we understand what inspiration means, especially in light of the the phenomena of Scripture?

Going forward, we will sketch out aspects of inspiration that better fits the Bible we actually have.

  • Scripture is clearly written by people who were culturally and linguistically bound to their own time and place.
  • By the very nature of classic literature, its impact goes far beyond its original time and place.
  • What we find, especially in the Hebrew Scriptures, is a description of how those people experienced phenomena they understood as God. As such they faithfully recorded their experience of God and what they understood Him to be doing. Because that understanding changed over time, it was also updated over time. But their understanding was limited and is distinct from the reality that is God. If this were not the case, revelation would not need to be progressive by its nature.
  • The job of the Holy Spirit, then, is to breath God’s life into human writings. Inspiration becomes about how God took very human works and used them in the process of revealing himself, making them more than what they were, but still limited by their earthiness.
  • The authority of Scripture, then, cannot rest on its “very words” because that limits God’s self revelation which can never be contained in written words but is most fully expressed in the incarnation of His son, Jesus.

That’s enough for now. We will start to unpack each of these going forward.

What would you add to or subtract from this list? Is there anything here that disturbs you?

5 thoughts on “How might we understand what the Bible is?

  1. All due respect, your opinions about inspiration and God’s written self-disclosure seem to be readbacks of what your preferred authors/authorities claim for the Bible, contradicting what the Bible says clearly for itself. Scripture itself says “men spoke from God being impelled by the Holy Spirit”, “the Word of the LORD came upon Jeremiah/JohnBaptist/etc.”, “God spoke to you through the mouth of David”, “all scripture is Theopneustos (God-breathed-out)”. You have reversed the process in your reconstructed slant: “men spoke and God later endorsed/allowed it as a ‘good try/nice start/best stab at describing God'”, “the word of Jeremiah was inspired by God after the fact”, “David spoke to you about God as best he could at the time/place”, “all scripture is anthropopneustos (man-breathed-out) and God didn’t seem to disagree at the time..”

    Please reconsider which authority you will heed: words of men (like Jesus nailed Pharisees as exalting tradition over God’s Very Word), or assume God’s Gospel as the Word of God it actually is, NOT just the mere mortal words of earthlings.

    The Bible is a Miraculous Book. Its 2 essential attributes are Supernatural & Natural. You are lopsidedly overstressing Natural element to the overriding de-emphasis of Supernatural. Just as Jesus-Word-of-the-Lord is 100% Supernatural (Deity from Heaven) AND 100% Natural (Human of Earth), so is Holy Scripture reflecting and characterizing Christ’s Incarnate-in-flesh reality in Christ’s Ingraphated-in-words reality.

    What you and Roger Olson et al limitedly errantly pronounce as ‘incoherent contradiction’ is from God’s point of view (terms we are bound to accept as ultimate reality vs. our terms) coherent supradiction beyond mere human reasoning not contrary to it like Jesus walking on water vs. swimming. You and Olson are swimming and expecting God to follow suit. He prefers to ride on the clouds, walk on the water and act/speak Heavenese in earthen translation as the Ultimate Communicator. The Bible claims it is from Heaven in earthen form. That claim must be taken seriously and received as such to best honor the Word of God & the God of His Word.

    • Jim, first off, so you know, I’m not ignoring you, it’s just that my schedule does not often permit much time to interact with the blog. Hence why I only post once or twice a month at most.

      I find it interesting that you essentially share Pete Enns’ Inspiration and Incarnation model for scripture (knowingly or not). While I think there is some benefits to this model, it tends to diminish the the uniqueness of Jesus and in some cases, conflate Jesus and the Bible.

      Now more to the point of your criticism, here are some of my questions: When you say the Bible is a miraculous book, what do you mean? Do you mean that it is outside the realm of the natural? If so, does that mean it’s outside the realm of historical phenomena and therefore its origins are outside the the realm of historical inquiry? If so, then there’s not really much we can discuss because what you are saying is simply special pleading.

      Now as to your concerns about what you consider to be the clear testimony of the Bible, I don’t think things are near so clear. When it says that God spoke, what does that mean? For example In the NT, when it says the the word of the Lord comes to someone like John the Baptizer, did God speak Greek? Because that’s the exact words of the Bible. I don’t mean to sound pedantic, but if you’re saying the Bible has the exact words of God, then the inevitable conclusion is that God spoke Greek to Jews in their homeland in the NT times. More to my concerns as it pertains to the “thus says the Lord” phrases, what are we to make of places like Jeremiah 2, where the “Thus says the Lord” in the Greek (the older edition of Jeremiah) doesn’t have the Lord saying the same thing as the Hebrew has him speaking?

      My overriding project is to understand how the books of the Hebrew Scriptures were formed based on the phenomenon of the Bible; in other words, what we can observe from the manuscript evidence. Given that the manuscripts overwhelmingly demonstrates evidence of editing, exactly when do the books take on their divine nature (to use your terminology)? Is it from their first inception? If so, then why did God subsequently decide they needed to be updated? How do we know which edits are actually divine and which are corruptions?

      I guess my final question for you is, what’s at stake for you if the model I propose has the best explanatory power?

      That’s enough for now. Thanks for the interaction and push back. My intention is never to undermine someone’s faith. There are, however, complications with the Bible we actually have that don’t fit the standard answers I was given and which you seem to be advocating.

      Shalom uvreka,

  2. Dan, thanks for taking time to reply. I get the impression you are of the Jewish faith, or perhaps was ‘Believing YHWH’ but now ‘Beleaving’ as I asked earlier about why you chose this name for your blog. I love exchanging with those of different faith backgrounds to arrive at some hopefully common consensus of TrueTruth about God and His OnlyBegottenSon Jesus based on Hebrew & Greek Scriptures.

    Most of your questions are dealing with why the Lord is not swimming instead of walking on water in relation to inspiration of the Bible. God chooses to ride the clouds on His own, not use a plane. That is the fundamental distinction between the Bible’s model for its own essence vs. yours, Roger Olson’s or even Pete Enns. Actually I couldn’t disagree more with Enns on his so-called Incarnational model of the Bible. If you read him carefully, he is much more aligned with your view which lopsidedly overemphasizes the ‘Carnation/Fleshment’ of Christ as Logos, i.e. human phenomena that cause many to underestimate Scripture as manmade with God’s divine inspired stamp of approval as ‘progressive revelation’, humans doing the best they can under their limited circumstances, etc. That is expecting the Lord to always be swimming naturally.
    My view, which aligns with the Bible’s own self-witness, is the Lord is walking on water supernaturally, and his Deity/SupremeBeing nature needs to govern the model we choose to understand the Bible. Unless we factor in to the equation that Holy Scripture is 100% miracle supernatural initiated solely by Christ in the Spirit as ultimate origin from eternity, then and only then transmitted from Heavenese to humanese (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, etc.) as embodied or engraphated 100% natural in earthen vessels (inspired Bible authors) in earthling-speak, we just won’t get what God is up to and will miss his communication with us. The problem is never with the Transmitter, always with the receivers. We need to know how to tune in to heaven’s frequency when hearing the Bible, not all the static and competing broadcast stations telling us what God really really means to transmit. Enns doesn’t grasp this, Olson is far from this. Of course when I compare the Written Word of YHWH to the Begotten Word of YHWH, it is only an analogy, not a direct one-to-one correspondence. Christ is not the Bible, the Bible is not Christ. But each is similar, characteristic of, representative of/by the other. I like to use the phrase, The BibleJesus and the JesusBible to show both similarity and distinction without conflating them.

    You ask what is at stake if your model has the best explanatory power? That’s a pretty bold assumption and you certainly are convinced and self-persuaded. What is at stake is True Truth, who really is the BibleJesus (100% SupremeBeing YHWH Junior & 100% HumanBeing King David’s Royal Son), what really is the JesusBible (100% miracle supernatural revelation TopDown from heaven & 100% natural human-authored passing along what was received from above initiated solely by Christ in the Spirit from the Father – YHWH being 1 x 1 x 1 = 1 GodKind).

    Lincoln had it right (and C.S. Lewis), to paraphrase: I am not so much concerned whether God or the angels or truth is on my side, but whether I in all humility and submission and repenting am on the Lord’s side. As Christ Himself said to the Sadducees with all their scholarliness academania skepticism casting doubts on Him and His Word – Aren’t you really mixed up all because you simply don’t really get the Scriptures (origin, nature, inherent authority, heavenly Amen supreme-grade quality of TopDown StandAlone Unilateral gracious revelation) or the infinite eternal power of God behind them?

    The more the likes of Enns and Olson et al seek to empower their ‘natural swimming’ models of the Bible, they unwittingly dissipate and lose the Bible’s own inherent supernatural waterwalking power to bless them. It’s like watching thirsty scholars desperate for a drink pour lifegiving water into their own hands frantically sipping and slupring all the drops they can, rather than humbly taking the cup of the Lord along with His lifegiving water to avoid spilling most of it on the ground losing most of the truthbearing benefit of the Bible. Why treat it is a piñata or punch so many holes in the Biblecup like a sieve where most of the value drains out? That’s what too many ultra-scholarly expert theologaster models do to the Word of God, all for the sake of manmade bottom-up modern academic traditions and schools of skeptical inquiry.

  3. Of course your notion of “special pleading” cuts both ways. The Bible claims to be BOTH Supernatural (Miracle by definition untestable by human methodology as if someone could interview YHWH Himself or recapture on tape Balaam’s talking donkey or Noah’s Flood or Jericho’s walls trumpeted-into-collapsing by conventional historical/textual inquiry) AND Natural.
    If you admit without sufficient warrant only natural testing of natural phenomena, that is special pleading as well, begging the question, ruling out possible paranormal from the getgo, artificial bounding your ground rules of playing checkers vs. actual probability of 3-D Chess or even Poker. You’re assuming God plays checkers or dice with the world which even Einstein ruled out. Ironically, by your pleading “Off Limits: Natural testable human mortal 2-D level playing field ONLY”, even THAT cannot be fully tested, recreated in a lab or scholar’s desk or computer textual analysis model program or…By letting the Bible at least be treated as fairly as other ancient historic documents, we should give it the same benefit of doubt as Julius Caesar in Gallic Wars, Ptolemy, Herodotus, Josephus, etc. We don’t seem to demand the same unachievable standards of provability/verifiability for Caesar’s claims (many quite extraordinary) as we do for poor Moses, Isaiah, St. John, ChristJesus Himself! God can created a burro, just can’t get her to talk? God can raise Jesus from the dead 33 years after His Virgin Birth, walking on water, etc., but God can’t leave us a 100% Truthbearing Believable Bible for us to know true truth for definite sure? As C.S. Lewis said, if you can stomach one unbelievable thing before breakfast (a la Lewis Carroll), you can stomach the rest if it’s the Real LordGodAlmighty we’re dealing with. But of course with any less of an OmniPersonage, any rationalist secular naturalistic model settles for that lowgrade standard of believability-achievability.

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