Monday, August 06, 2007

So Does the Bible Mean What It Says About Itself, Or?

I didn't want a longer title, but if I did, it would have ended like this, "Or Are We Required to Look at Historical Material to Verify What It Says about Itself?" A lot of individuals deny inspiration. Michael Baigent is a man, very well educated in theology and he does. Bart Ehrman (scroll down a ways within the link to read what Ehrman says about Christmas now) went to Moody Bible Institute, Wheaton, and then Princeton under Bruce Metzger, and he denies inspiration too. So did Rudolf Bultmann and Paul Tillich, that is, reject verbal-plenary inspiration. I say verbal-plenary, because they would both likely say, if they were alive, that they did believe in inspiration, more of the natural variety. Men have attacked inspiration and it's bad. Scripture teaches inspiration and in a very practical way in 2 Timothy 3:16, 17.

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.
Every writing, mark, etching, or stroke of the pen is breathed out by God. Notice then how that inspiration is directly related to the practical. Sufficiency of Scripture is tied up with every Word. We can't decide we will go on and on about how that pas graphe means verbal plenary when it comes to inspiration, but then back away from its connection with sufficiency. I believe this is why when Ehrman lost faith in preservation, he lost faith in Scripture itself. He was being honest about it when he wrote:

As I realized already in graduate school, even if God had inspired the original words [of Scripture], we don't have the original words. So the doctrine of inspiration was in a sense irrelevant to the Bible as we have it, since the words of God reputedly inspired had been changed and, in some cases, lost. Moreover, I came to think that my earlier views of inspiration were not only irrelevant, they were probably wrong. For the only reason (I came to think) for God to inspire the Bible would be so that his people have his actual words; but surely if he really wanted people to have his actual words, surely he would have miraculously preserved those words, just as he had miraculously inspired them in the first place. Given the circumstance that he didn't preserve the words, the conclusion seemed inescapable to me that he hadn't gone to the trouble of inspiring them (p. 211 of Misquoting Jesus).
Author and theologian Mark Roberts pretty much mocks Ehrman for that statement. He loves his textual criticism, but he doesn't like his connection of inspiration with preservation. Do you see what Ehrman says? He thought that the reason that God had inspired the Bible was so that His people could "have his actual words." In the locus classicus of inspiration, 2 Timothy 3:16, 17, isn't that what God says, or am I missing something? But here's Robert's answer to Ehrman:

The question Ehrman should have asked was: What does it tell us about God that He inspired the writers of Scripture but did not perfectly preserve what they wrote down? The answer, I think, is that God was looking for something beyond making sure we always had His actual words. Now, even as one who actually believes that the words of Scripture are inspired by God and also chosen by the human writers, I would nevertheless disagree with Ehrman's basic contention about the purpose of inspiration. God's primary purpose in inspiring the writers of Scripture was not so that people would have His words, but so that they would be drawn into a truthful relationship with Him. The words matter, to be sure, but only as a vehicle for a relationship of faith with the living God. Some modest uncertainty about the words might, it seems, cause one to lean more upon God and less upon the words themselves.
How's that all sound to you? Scripture was written to be drawn into a "truthful relationship with Him." With Roberts we have a disconnect between "words" and "truth"? This is the kind of loosey-goosey theology (bibliology) that comes out of skepticism and doubt. Roberts relies on his own surmisings and speculations instead of just looking at the text to find out what God's point was with His Words.

Recently while driving across Nevada with my family, I was listening to a CD of a sermon sent out by a popular, conservative Bible teacher. His message was sent popularly all over the country, entitled "The Doctrine of Inspiration Explained." I thought he did a very good job in fulfilling what he set about to do. I wouldn't have done much differently than him in preaching the inspiration of the Bible. At one point in the sermon, he takes off against the idea of "thought inspiration" by saying:

This is a denial of verbal inspiration. If this is true, we’re really wasting our time doing exegesis of the text because the words aren’t the issue. Like the gentleman said to me on the Larry King Show the other night, which I mentioned, “You’re so caught up in the words you’re missing the message of the Bible.” That’s a convenient view. The idea that there’s some idea, concept, religious notion there that may or may not be connected to the words, but the Bible claims to be the very words of God. First Corinthians 2:13, “We speak not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches.” Paul says when I give the revelation of God, when I write down that which God inspires in me, it is not words coming from man’s wisdom, but which the Spirit teaches. In John 17:8 Jesus said, “I have given unto them the words which You gave Me and they have received them.” The message was in the words, there is no message apart from the words, there is no inspiration apart from the words. More than 3800 times in the Old Testament we have expressions like “Thus says the Lord,” “The Word of the Lord came,” “God said,” it’s about the words. There are no such things as wordless concepts anyway. When Moses would excuse himself from serving the Lord, he said, “I need to do something else because I’m not eloquent.” God didn’t say, “I’ll give you a lot of great ideas, you’ll figure out how to communicate them.” God didn’t say, “I’ll be with your mind.” God said to him this, “I will be with your mouth and I will teach you what you shall say.” And that explains why 40 years later, according to Deuteronomy 4:2, Moses said to Israel, “You shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall you diminish ought from it that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.” Don’t touch anything I command you because this is from God.
I agreed heartily with all that, and it absolutely contradicts what Roberts said in criticism of Bart Ehrman. Our whole exegetical approach to preaching is about words. Words were the point of inspiration and now doctrine and practice. Roberts wrote that inspiration was about getting truths to men. Read carefully what the preacher on this CD says next:

In fact, the opposite is true. Bible writers wrote down words they didn’t understand. In 1 Peter chapter 1 we are told there that the prophets wrote down the words and didn’t understand what they meant. The prophets, verse 10 of 1 Peter 1, who prophesied of the grace that would come made careful search and inquiry, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. Here they are writing about the sufferings of the coming Messiah, writing about the glory to follow the suffering of the Messiah, and then they’re searching what they wrote. They’re inquiring in the very words which they were inspired to write, to figure out what person and what time is in view. They couldn’t even interpret fully the meaning of the words they were actually writing. God did not give ideas without words but in some cases He gave words without complete ideas.
He says that the teachings weren't even as important as the Words, and he proves it from this text. Of course, this is all about inspiration. This man wants a Biblical view of inspiration. He doesn't want his people tossed to and fro by the skepticism and rationalism of men. He is taking the passages honestly. The very next thing he says is:

In Matthew 24:35 the Scripture is very clear, “Heaven and earth shall pass away but My words...My words shall not pass away.” When God speaks He speaks with words and the Bible are the representation in writing of the words that came from God...the words that God spoke.
This teacher, John MacArthur, by the way, while being honest with these texts, comes to the same conclusion about Matthew 24:35 as I did when I wrote a chapter on this verse in our book, Thou Shalt Keep Them. He says that the Bible "is" (present tense) "the Words that God spoke." Later in the message, commenting on the same verse, He asserts: "Scripture will not pass away and My words will not pass away." He is getting the same thing that I'm getting out of it. MacArthur later preaches:

It was Jesus who emphasized the importance of every word...every word and every letter when He said, “Not a jot or tittle will ever fail.” He said in Luke 18:31, “All the things that are written through the prophets shall be accomplished.” He even based His interpretation of the Old Testament on a single word...a single word. The words do matter. Jesus was answering the Sadducees in Matthew 22 and He said to them, “You are mistaken, not understanding the scriptures, or the power of God, for in the resurrection they neither marry...talking about the angels...nor are given in marriage but are like angels in heaven. But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read that which was spoken to you by God saying,’I am the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob?’” He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. And His proof is that God said, “I am...I am the eternal living one.” And furthermore, He is not only the eternal living one but all will live eternally as well. They didn’t believe in a resurrection and He proved His point or certainly to our satisfaction proved His point by talking about the eternality of God in the verb to be in the present tense.
He says that God has shown that a whole doctrine will rise and fall on one word. This is why inerrancy is such an important doctrine, and for the actual Bibles that we use. We get doctrine and practice, just like Timothy did, from the Words that were perfectly preserved. Do you see how that MacArthur in these instances is just being honest with the text? He has no axe to grind because he isn't considering the doctrine of preservation at the moment. He is mainly debunking the theological liberals who deny verbal, plenary inspiration. With them targeted in his scope, he feels free to cut loose with the honest teachings of these passages. You remember above what MacArthur said about Matthew 24:35. William Combs of Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary disagrees with MacArthur about its meaning:

Matthew 24:35 uses the same hyperbolic language as Matthew 5:18.“Not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law” is saying much the same thing as “My words will not pass away.” Both the words of the Law and the words of Jesus are immutable; they cannot be set aside; they are unalterable. As the words of God, they “stand forever’ (Isa 40:8). And just as “not the smallest letteror stroke shall pass from the Law” speaks of the authority and validity of the Law, so the fact that Jesus’ “words will not pass away” gives themequal authority to the OT. Carson notes: “The authority and eternal validity of Jesus’ words are nothing less than the authority and eternal validity of God’s words (Ps 119:89–90; Isa 40:6–8).” But unlike Matthew 5:18, which clearly refers to Scripture, 24:35 has reference to the authority of Jesus’ oral words. And though it is true that some of Jesus’ words were recorded in Scripture, written revelation is not the primary emphasis here.
See how Combs explains away preservation from the plain meaning of Scripture, totally contradicting what MacArthur says above. Anyone with an unbiased reading of the texts MacArthur references would get the same message from those Words that MacArthur did.

So. Does the Bible mean what it says? Or do we bow to rationalism and skepticism? Ehrman just pushed the eject button rather than believe. Roberts puts a spin on the point of inspiration. Combs skews and discombobulates passages. Why? "History" and "physical evidence" has thrown them into doubt. Does MacArthur himself believe in perfect preservation? I don't think so. He should based on what he says these passages mean. But instead, he as well as others stagger at the promises of God in unbelief (Rom. 4:20).


7Blessings said...

Why follow the Bible when it was written by men and not in the same time as which it occured? Why is the cannon so sketchy? Why were books left out? don't you believe that the Church should not have the right to dictate what is to be written and read by followers?

Kent Brandenburg said...

The Bible came from God (2 Tim. 3:16, 17; 2 Peter 1:20, 21). The canon isn't sketchy. Believers copied and used only the 66 books. The books left out were not inspired. The Bible lays out how a church operates.