Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Inerrancy 2 (Authority of God)

1 A Little History

The Authority of God
A good starting point is to recognize that the authority of Scripture comes from the authority of God.  For some Wesleyans, this statement is so obvious that it does not need mentioned.  In fact, for some it may be difficult even to know what a distinction between the two might look like.

For example, a person may read the Bible like you would watch a video recording of the people and events in the Bible.  When God speaks in the story, you hear the exact words that God said, and even when someone else is speaking in the Bible, you are still pretty much hearing God speak directly to you.  For this person, the Bible is hardly Paul's words to the Corinthians or Isaiah's words to Israel but it is overwhelmingly God's word to everyone in all times and places.

So if one word of the Bible had an error, then it would call into question every single word of the Bible. To this person, God has more or less dictated the words of the Bible, and it would make God a liar if even one word was not true.  It would call into question his entire character as truthful.

For other Wesleyans, it is crucial to emphasize the derivative nature of the authority of Scripture in relation to the authority of God.  All Wesleyans agree that the authority of Scripture comes from the authority of God.  But for some Wesleyans, this distinction is very important.  For example, someone might notice that there are lots of groups that believe the Bible is without error but whose interpretations of the Bible differ widely from Wesleyans.  For example, Jehovah's Witnesses, who believe that Jesus was only a god, not the God, believe the Bible is inerrant. [1]  David Koresh believed the Bible was inerrant, who led his cult followers to Waco, Texas only to die in a suicidal fire.

It is thus only the Bible, rightly interpreted, that has the authority of God.  We remember from Matthew 4 and Luke 4 that Satan can use the Bible for evil.  Indeed, those calling themselves Christians have repeatedly used the Bible to justify evil and sinful intentions--murder, oppression, hate.  Look under the masks of the KKK and you would have found many self-righteous pastors and church leaders.  Look into Hitler's Germany and you would have found many a pastor who will not likely be in the kingdom of God.

To modify Jesus' words slightly, "If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true. There is another who testifies in my favor" (John 5:31-32, NIV). Christians throughout the centuries have regularly believed that it is the Bible as illuminated by the Spirit that is the word of God, and Christians have often suggested that a person without faith may not be able to hear it.  You can read the Bible as a mere historical source and not hear or experience it as Christian Scripture.

The New Testament itself suggests that the word of God requires "ears to hear" (Mark 4:23).  1 Peter 1:10-12 pictures the prophets and angels incredibly curious of what their words might turn out to mean about the Christ, a reflection of the fact that the christological meaning of the Old Testament was not always obvious to the Old Testament prophets themselves.  It was more often a "spiritual" or fuller sense to the Old Testament words of the prophets than their literal or plain sense.  God's plan for the Gentiles was thus a mysterious development, one not anticipated (Eph. 3:5).  It is thus the Bible, rightly interpreted, that has the authority of God.

The more we are aware of the books of the Bible themselves as moments of revelation in history, the more important it is to recognize that it is not the books themselves but the God to which they give witness who is all in all.  The Bible is the word of God, but Christ is the Word of God.  Anything else approaches idolatry, to make an image of Christ into the object of worship, to worship the creation rather than the Creator, to put human words above the divine Word.

God leaves an element of mystery in the revelation of the Bible so that we do not think the book alone is sufficient but we are driven to Christ himself.  The Bible does not give us all the answers so we will trust in him.  Indeed, in the end it is essential that we not view the Bible as object, as an end-in-itself for us to master.  Rather, God seeks to master us through Scripture. [2] The authority of Scripture is not so much the voice of Scripture speaking to us, but the action of God on us through Scripture.

[1] Joel Green mentions this in Seized by Truth.

[2] A point that Green strongly tries to bring out in Seized.


Dick Norton said...

The prophets (I Pet. 1:10-12) did not know the "person" or the "time" of the things God predicted through them. But they absolutely knew that the predictions involved the "sufferings of Christ" and the "subsequent glories." You have set up a "straw man" when you suggest that the prophets didn't understand the content of their prophecies. You want the words of the prophets to have a "fuller meaning" than the prophets understood. You have worried that believing in inerrancy "tends toward idolatry." I would suggest that twisting the words of Scripture for one's own purposes tends toward heresy. If the Lord Yahweh spoke the words through the prophets, I find no problem in cherishing, loving, and believing them. To give exalted status to His words is the right response to His Exalted Status! It's not the business of the believer to judge God's words for accuracy, but to seek to understand them in context, to enjoy them, and to obey them.

Ken Schenck said...

Thanks for your faithful push back. I agree that it is completely appropriate to venerate Scripture, as long as we don't worship it!

Your comment on 1 Peter is exactly the right push back. All I can say is that I am not creating the issues here, only trying to find some resolution to them. As you know, I am not questioning YHWH speaking through the prophets. I'm suggesting he spoke doubly through the prophets and that he can speak anew through them today.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

If one begins with a premise, then, it is possible to "prove" just about anything. This is what "social conditioning" is about.

The premise that Scripture is "God breathed", "God ordained" or "the authority of God" is such a premise. How does one KNOW this premise is so? Faith.

Those that choose not to believe such premises on "faith" seek another avenue to "truth". "Social conditioning" does not prefer critical thinking, because such thinking is considered a "lack of faith".

One believes because one is told, or one is taught (conditioned)to do so, by one's family, community, or by Scripture itself. That doesn't seem to breed critical thinking, but compliance.

Though "order" is something that is important to any society, our laws protect the individual's right to dissent, question, investigate, ponder and probe. It is the value of "free speech" (free thought) and we should not give that right up for anything!

Dick Norton said...

My main objection to sensus plenior is that it gives too much latitude to people trying to do hermeneutics. We REALLY know what God spoke in the OT (for instance) when we do careful exegesis of its passages. Does God speak to us today through the OT? Yes, of course! We hear his message to the people of olden times through the prophets, and then we understand that message in our own particular situations if there are applicable parallel circumstances. God does indeed speak to us through the OT because the human condition has not really changed that much over the years. You and I probably have grown up in church settings where an OT passage was read and then immediately turned into a metaphor for the Christian life, with all the truths coming from NT references, and almost NO consideration given to the message of God in the original context. That is unhelpful preaching! It makes for good emotional messages, but very little learning for the congregation in how to read, exegete, and apply the Scripture. My plea, Ken, is that you rethink sensus plenior. It is not necessary for understanding the Word of God, and it sets no thoughtful rules for hermeneutics. I appreciate that you are trying to resolve issues of NT use of the OT, and apparent errors of fact here and there. I hope that Christians can approach such issues with the default position that the Bible IS the Word of God, and therefore truthful, rather than approaching the issues with the default position that the Bible is unreliable in many of its statements. I have used the former default position, and have found it intellectually satisfying, because the hard work of solving some of the statements has brought me a greater appreciation for the Bible's unity of message. I still have a few (very few) issues that need to be resolved, but I have learned over the years that God is faithful,and the Bible is reliable, and that I am merely human in my understanding.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Dick Norton,
That is your particular understanding of theology.

Authority has been the question, hasn't it, since the Enlightenment and Reformation? Both were foundational to the American Revolution and the establishment of our society's value of liberty.

Today, we believe that the "rule of law" doesn't allow for authoritative dictates to individual preferences/choices. But, "political correctness" might limit particular preferences, mightn't it?
"Political correctness" is a matter of political survival for one's particular ends....as a leader. At least, this is what it seems to have come to with a compliant media or subversion/subterfuge of information!

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks for this series!

Steve Finnell said...


Should mankind use the Bible and the Bible alone for teaching faith and practice? If God's truth is the template for you, then the Bible should be your source for truth.


1. Quote from Pope Francis May 22, 2013: "The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not evil. All of us. "But Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.' Yes he can..."The Lord has redeemed all of us,all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us not just Catholics Everyone! Father, the atheist? Even the atheists. Everyone! ....We must meet one another doing good. ' But I don't believe, Father, I am an atheist! But do good:we will meet one another there."

2. Quote from Billy Graham October 20, 1997: "I think everybody that loves Christ, or knows Christ, whether they're conscious of it or not, they're members of the Body of Christ......He's calling people out of the world for His name, whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world,or the Christian world, or the non-believing world, they are members of the Body of Christ,because they've been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus, but they know in their hearts that they need something that they don't have, and they turn to the only light that they have, and I think they are saved, and that they're going to be with us in heaven."

3. Quote from Doctrine of Covenants -section 130:22 (Mormon supposed divine revelations): The "Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man's; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were is not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us.


YOU ARE INVITED TO FOLLOW MY CHRISTIAN BLOG. http://steve-finnell.blodspot.com