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?