Sunday’s message “We Believe: The Bible” introduced a basic understanding for how we view the Bible in the life of Rushville Church of Christ. I used 2 Timothy 3:16-17 to answer three questions:
What is the Bible?
How did we get The Bible?
How should we use the Bible?
I think it’s worth going a bit deeper into the second question. Specifically, I’d like to unpack more about how the books of the Bible are considered “inspired” and therefore “inerrant”. I’d also like to explain in better detail how certain writings were included in the Holy Bible and others were not.
The Inspiration of the Bible
First, we need to understand what inspiration means in regard to the Biblical writings. The Apostle Paul captures it well in his first letter to the Church at Corinth.
“This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.” 1 Corinthians 2:13 (NIV84)
This is inspiration; that God’s Spirit expresses “spiritual truths in spiritual words” which God’s people inscribed, determined to be “God’s Word” and then collected. There are 239 verses in the Bible which have the phrase, “word of God” in them. This doesn’t seal the argument that the Bible is inspired, but it does indicate that God has given His Word to people. Brian H. Edwards from the Answers in Genesis website describes Biblical inspiration:
“The inspiration of Scripture is a harmony of the active mind of the writer and the sovereign direction of the Holy Spirit to produce God’s inerrant and infallible Word for the human race.”
The Inerrancy of the Bible
We believe the writers and editors of 66 books of the Bible were inspired by God to write divine and authoritative scripture in their own languages. (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek) As a result of inspiration, the writing in the original languages has the characteristic of being without error. This raises many questions for people who struggle with the idea of Biblical inerrancy.
For instance, if the Bible’s inerrant…
Why does it seem like there are so many apparent contradictions in it?
How can aspects of modern science seem to refute it?
Why do many people seem to make mistakes as a result of following it??
How can “fallen, sinful, man” be trusted with it’s transcription?
All good questions which only scratch the surface of the issues we can have with inerrancy. Yet, in these questions are the answers to some of the problems with inerrancy.
Apparent Contradictions: These are typically places in the Bible where theological, cultural, contextual, geographical or historical understanding are needed to reconcile two places that seem to disagree. A few examples.
Proverbs 26:4-5 is a seemingly logistical contradiction solved by understanding contextual application. (Respond to a fool in this situation and not that.)
Refuted by Science: Science is excellent for determining how the material world functions and has served mankind in many ways. Like all disciplines, Scientific disciplines are specific in their purposes. In the same way, Theological disciplines are specific in their purposes. We’ve seen how science serves poorly to pursue the theological questions of “why”, “who” and “what”. A scientific approach says inerrancy (in anything, not just scripture) is impossible. A theological approach says it’s entirely possible.
Human Error: The thought of the Bible being inerrant is complicated by the fact that people (including the Church) don’t seem able to produce or follow anything inerrantly. For example, all things we build, even things built very well, eventually fall apart. Yet, this is the point. The Bible’s is second to none in it’s truthfulness, wisdom and impeccable precision to ask, let alone answer, the vast questions of life for each generation of it’s existence. You begin to think the writers had to have help.
Choosing What’s “Inspired” therefore “Inerrant”
By 367AD, the Church had presented the 66 books of the Bible as the collection of inspired therefore inerrant writings. To choose which books to include in the Biblical “Canon” (collection), centuries ago our Church ancestors deliberated, argued and decided based on a set of specific criteria. It was not taken lightly. Here are the commonly accepted qualities for determining if an ancient writing is Biblical:
For the Old Testament Books:
Was the Old Testament book known to be part of the accepted Jewish canon?
Can any of it’s contents be refuted as untrue?
Was it accepted by Jesus?
Was it accepted as authoritative by the Early Church? (ex: Quoted in the Gospels?)
Is it in agreement with other books in the canon? (1 & 2 Chronicles, 1 & 2 Kings)
For the New Testament Books:
Is the date of origination within 100 years of the ascension of Jesus?
Was the author of the book someone who experienced the risen Jesus or was directly associated with an Apostle who experienced the risen Jesus?
Can any of it’s contents be refuted as untrue?
Was it accepted as authoritative by the early Church? (ex: Circular Letters)
Is it in agreement with other books in the canon? (Book of Hebrews vs. The Old Testament)
I hope this helps to give more detail and depth to the ideas of Biblical inspiration, inerrancy and inclusion into the collection of writings called the Holy Bible. Next week we move on to what we believe about the nature of human beings.