Friday, January 11, 2008

The Bible Tells Me So

I was planning today to write a piece about reading the Bible and if there is a mature way to come to be able to take the Bible seriously, but not completely literally. And then I realized that I'd already basically done that last June.

I don't know why I'm having so much trouble with Scripture these days. If you search for Bible on my blog, you can see how much I've been struggling with it. Just in the last couple of years, I've been digging and thinking and pondering about the nature of Scripture and our relationship to it. I'm getting to the point where I believe that the Bible is part of God's work in our world, but not the only part. I'm getting to the point where I believe that the Bible is from God, but not inerrant. I've been at the point for awhile where I believe that God inspired the Bible, but that didn't preclude people's tendency to inject personal issues, foibles, and perspectives.

I guess what I'm wrestling with the most is what is the place of Scripture in the life of a Christian who believes that God inspired it, but doesn't believe that it is inerrant, infallible, or whatever other theological words we come up with. And the big question even in that is, how do we decide which parts to follow? Do we cherry pick the parts we like and ignore the parts we don't (not that most Christians don't already do that)?

I'm trying to come to a position of respect and honoring of the Scriptures, but not deifying them, not creating them as a new god to be worshipped, as I and others have probably unintentionally done. And I hope and pray that that leads me to a greater respect for them, the people that wrote them, and the God I believe inspired them.

13 comments:

Justin said...

My brother in law made a comment about that that has stuck with me.

He said, if the bible is inerrant, in that it is the complete perfect revelation from God where every word has meaning and nothing is incorrect, do you really need faith to believe it?

I mean, if you believe that God was holding the authors hands and whispering in their ears and that the bible was delivered down perfectly for all ages, you shouldn't ever run into doubt about what its telling you. There's no room for faith.

Which is ironic, since the bible talks a whole lot about having faith.

nedra said...

Interesting...I've sometimes felt that even in our faith, some of our leaders may have "cherry-picked" certain parts and run with them. It's hard not to interpret the Bible in a way that I'm so used to hearing it be interpreted. It is so, so hard to look at a verse with fresh, new eyes. As you mentioned prayer, I'll be praying, too. There has to be some kind of balance between legalism and "happy-clappy-ness."

Brian said...

It's my guess that the only people who believe that the Bible is inerrant etc, are those whose churches encourage them to check their brains at the door before entering.

Your point about cherry picking is well made. I find it very difficult deciding what to take literally, what is metaphorical, what is the opinion of the writer, and what is cultural and only applied to the time it was written.

Interestingly, even the churches that believe that every word of the Bible is directly from God, don't actually practice the dress or food rules as laid out in scripture.

Anonymous said...

Brian,

What are the dress and food rules in the New Testament?

jonmower said...

For dress, how about:

1 Timothy 2:9
I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes,

and

1 Peter 3:3
Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes.

Here's a food one:

1 Timothy 5:23
Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.

That I think illustrates wonderfully that there is more to applying scriptural teachings than simply parsing it for a set of rules to be literally applied without reference to context. I suspect that there are plenty of spiritual "commands" in the NT that are analogous to this...i.e. a remedy given to address a problem that isn't applicable when the problem is not present.


There was some discussion on reliability and inerrancy at scottfreeman.info last year...see the comments for this post: link

In particular, I rambled on about where I was at that time in this comment: link

I mention in that comment an example where Paul quotes from Psalms where our Psalms says "recevied gifts from men" but Paul quotes "gave gifts to men" which is apparently quoting a 1st century version rather than the original text. If nothing else, that example complicates the typical view of inerrant scriptures.

The cliff notes version is that I believe the Bible is reliable and mostly inerrant (though not necessarily absolutely inerrant) and that inspiration and the process of discerning and applying Biblical principles is much more complicated than I was taught.

I would say that my views are fairly similar to what Phil has written here.

I would also say that I suspect there are probably plenty of cases where we err by not taking scripture literally judy as there are where we err by taking it literally.

jonmower said...

justin,

I guess I don't see how believing the Bible is inerrant precludes faith. "if you believe God..." involves faith.

Justin said...

You don't have to have faith in Jesus. You have faith that the bible is perfect. Then there's no reason have to need faith in Jesus.

Basically, the completely inerrant crowd believes first that the bible was inspired completely, and that every word in it is true. When you believe that, there's no need to have faith in Jesus, because you know it happened.

Believing in an inerrant bible nullifys having to have faith in anything else having to do with Christianity.

jonmower said...

Justin,

What you're saying just doesn't make sense to me...it doesn't seem logical.

When Phillip taught the Ethiopian eunuch about Jesus, maybe he believed that Phillip's testimony was completely true and accurate. Regardless he be had faith in Jesus and acted on it.

So someone believes the Bible contains a completely accurate account of Jesus' life and acts on it...I don't understand why he doesn't have faith in Jesus.

Brian said...

Anon, your comment about dress and food codes in the NT interested me. Why not also include the OT? It is also part of the Bible. This is where the difficulty arises for me. If the Bible is taken literally, or viewed as the inspired inerrant word of God, then how can we choose to seperate the OT from the NT? Surely the codes of the OT are valid if the codes of the NT are taken as valid.

To take the "believe it all is inerrant" path leaves no option to interpret the culture, and it certainly doesn't allow us to slice of the OT.

I suppose we could all be Muslims, how belive that every work of the Koran is as holy as God (Allah), and therefore cannot be questioned.

Tony Arnold said...

I truly agree with those that keep mentioning discernment in using scripture to guide us through our life.

I will challenge that a large part of this discernment (and maybe where the inerrant part comes in too) for us is the current, active role of the Holy Spirit in helping us discern. And we cannot tap into this without listening prayer and a vigilant relationship with the Father.

If we believe the Holy Spirit inspired the writers don't we have to believe that the Spirit stays involved with those truly seeking truth and aid from scripture? The Holy Spirit would be the force that keeps the scripture above the fallacies of the men it is entrusted too, both the writers and the students (notice I did not leave it just to readers).


A long way to say that I believe the Holy Spirit plays a critical role in the usefulness of scripture over time, far beyond only working with the writers.

Tony Arnold said...

p.s. When I said, "above the fallacies of the men ...", I did not mean to imply the Holy Spirit kept scriptures free of any errors, contradictions, mistranslations, misinterpretations, etc. I meant the Holy Spirit will be the force working across time with those seeking truth from scripture so that any of the above does not interfere with the true intent that God has for scripture.

Thomas+ said...

In our tradition, we have a high view of scripture. We say this:

Holy Scripture contains all things necessary for salvation. Consequently whatever
is not read in Scripture nor can be proved from Scripture cannot be demanded from any person to believe it as an article of the faith. Nor is any such thing to be thought necessary or required for salvation.

I don't use words like "inerrant," because I don't how they apply. I prefer the Bible's own words: "God Breathed." God breathed it, men wrote it, the Church affirmed it, and the Bible now serves as the revealed word of God.

Simple? No way. But faithful, I believe.

Keith Brenton said...

You said: "I believe that the Bible is part of God's work in our world, but not the only part."

Romans 1:19-20 tells me "... what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse."

Not all that has been clearly seen in creation can be seen in the Bible. So I have to conclude that not everything that there is to know about God can be found there only in the Bible.

John 16:13-15 quotes Jesus saying, "But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you." If this only means inspiring some of them (maybe only two present) to write scripture, wouldn't it make more sense for Jesus to just say that? Doesn't it imply that there could be many ways the Spirit might choose to guide followers of Christ into all truth?

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