method of interpreting the Scriptures very much depends upon your view of the
inspiration of the Scriptures. Let’s look at the innocent little passage that
has caused modern Christianity so much trouble:
however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of,
knowing from whom you have learned them,
and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to
give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ
Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for
reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God
may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
(2Ti 3:14-17 NASB)
authenticity of the Scriptures
section is taken from an earlier lesson, for which I make no apologies.
Haven’t changed my mind, and I still like the look of it).
myth goes something like this: “well, the Bible was never written down until
several centuries after the time of Christ. He probably did some cool
things—but how can we know which parts are authentic and which aren’t?”
sounding statement; only one problem—it’s false. Let’s take this problem in
three easy steps:
How do I know the
original documents of the Bible are trustworthy? In particular, how do I know
they’re old enough that the eyewitnesses to Jesus read them?
Given that I have
a good original, how do I know that all those monks didn’t mess up the copies?
And given those
two, how do I know I have a good translation?
consider the original documents first. If the original documents date from the
time of the Apostles, you know that they’re likely to be correct. If they
don’t, then who knows what errors might have crept in, right? So what about
those documents? A few facts:
The time we are
concerned about runs up to about AD 70—when Jerusalem was sacked by the
Romans. St. Paul died in AD 64, so we would be looking for indications that
the originals existed in Jerusalem before AD 70. Is there any such indication?
The myth says
there’s nothing there. But—by way of example—there is an almost complete copy
of the Gospel of John (one of the later books—which has been carbon dated to AD
120. It was found in a monastery in Egypt. That means that it’s not the
original, and that the original must have been copied several times before this
copy was made.
There is also the
internal evidence of the book itself. Look at the book of Acts, for example.
There are dozens of place names and ruler names—minor rulers whose names would
have been forgotten after a few years (can you tell me who was mayor of Los Angeles in 1933?). That book ends with Paul still living. We know from history that
he died in AD 64. Acts is either an extremely well researched hoax—or it’s
There are other
witnesses, too. The enemies of Christianity—mostly Roman—quoted the Gospels
extensively during the second century AD. Their quotations track quite nicely
with the Gospels. This evidence tells us that the Gospels were well known by
about AD 100.
Other evidence is
found in the fact that complete translations of the New Testament into other
languages show up starting about AD 120.
Christian writer—gives us a summary of the Gospels. The undisputed date for
this is AD 170.
all this evidence, why is there such a myth? Simple. Until the 4th century
AD, the New Testament was available only in pieces—book by book. When Constantine—the first Roman emperor who was a Christian—took over, he commissioned an
Imperial set of copies of the New Testament. This was about AD 325. One of
those copies is still in existence. But making official copies is very
different from writing down the legends.
let’s take up the “Xerox problem” - how do we know we have good copies? There
are two answers to that:
First, there are
something like 15,000 manuscripts of the New Testament (or parts thereof) which
date before AD 1000. Just in sheer numbers alone this dwarfs the copies of any
other ancient book. (The Odyssey of Homer is second—with less than two
More to the point,
have you every considered how people know there are thousands of mistakes in
the Bible? It’s because scholars have been able to trace the origins of these
mistakes from copier to copier. If you know how many mistakes there are, you
must have a pretty good idea of the correct answer.
other thing: most of the earliest copies were not made by monks, but by
professional copiers. You went down to the local scriptorum and asked for a
copy to be made. The slaves who did it checked their work by adding all the
letters in the rows, and in the columns—and checking those totals against the
originals. Some of those tallies can still be seen in manuscripts today.
last: how do I know I have a good translation? Since the time of the King
James we’ve known how to do that. James (the king, not the apostle) had a
problem—all the existing English translations were riddled with someone’s
bias. He had a kingdom to unite. So he commissioned two groups of scholars to
work on the translation. A scholar would translate the work to start with;
his work would be reviewed by a small group; their work would be reviewed by
the entire company. When finished, the two companies got together to hash out
result was the King James Bible—the standard of the English speaking peoples
for almost 300 years. The method was so successful that it is still used for
us dispense with one thing first. Entire denominations who call themselves
Christians do not believe in the inspiration of the Scriptures. The most
notorious example of this is the “Jesus Seminar,” much beloved by the press. I
believe they are now down to one authentic verse in the Gospels; the rest being
hand me down and myth. That’s why we started with the authenticity.
who believe in the inspiration generally fall into two camps:
are those who believe that inspiration comes by a filling or gift of the
Holy Spirit. This view is quite compatible with the statements in the
The difficulty with this view is that anyone who is (or thinks they are)
filled with the Spirit can now, in theory, write Scripture. Despite the
warning at the end of Revelation, this remains a temptation.
other view is what is called “autonomic writing.” In this, the author is
supposed to go into a trance while God moves the pen. This has some real
difficulties in the stylistic differences of the New Testament. We
therefore hear of “God moving the mind that moves the pen.”
difficulty in picking between these views is simply that the Apostles left us
very little to go on. Perhaps that was intentional.
differences over inspiration are, however, trivial compared to the differences
what do you mean, inspired?
are four primary views of inspiration, each with its own virtues and drawbacks:
- Inspiration. “I believe what the Bible says about the Bible,”
as one professor
put it. It means just what the word in the English language means. This
interpretation allows for a great deal of room in viewing various parts of
the Bible. It is the easiest position to defend, and the hardest to use
as a basis for agreement. Its most popular exponent is C. S. Lewis.
This version assumes that God has (providentially) preserved the
Scriptures for (which is unsupported in Scripture). If you ask for proof
text for this, you get 2 Timothy 3:16. This is a mild form of the
remaining two, but it evidences one of the problems of going beyond
inspiration: there is only one possible right answer. This tends to lead
to the idea that we need only the Bible, and we can and should throw away
the thinking of anyone earlier than us.
- Infallibility. To the phrase, “without error” we now add,
(This is the official position of Eastside Christian Church). It is a
position which has its good points (the Bible is now a rule book) and bad
(suppose Paul did tell Timothy to take a little wine for his stomach?) It
tends to be accompanied by a “proof text” methodology.
- Literal Infallibility. Usually found among those who
are vigorously opposed to evolution, it is also associated with 6-day
creationists and King James only churches. It tends to develop a very
legalistic structure, and has some obvious difficulties in interpreting
metaphoric parts of the Scripture.
this matter it is my personal view that filling is greatly superior (as a
working hypothesis) to autonomic writing. Here’s why:
variety of texts tell us of the different ways of how the Scripture was
created. Clearly, the Ten Commandments given by the finger of God
represent a different method. There is no text I can find which supports
the autonomic writing theory.
autonomic writing theory is a late invention; the early church never
thought of it.
is very difficult to explain the differences in writing style with
vs. inerrancy and infallibility
must first unveil here a major difficulty in translating this verse:
Scripture [is] God-breathed and [is] beneficial for teaching [or, doctrine], for verification [or, reproof], for correcting faults, for
instruction in righteousness [or, the behavior that
scripture inspired of God is also
profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is
holy Writing which comes from God is of profit for teaching, for training, for
guiding, for education in righteousness:
Everything in the Scriptures is God's Word. All of it is useful for teaching
and helping people and for correcting them and showing them how to live.
scripture is divinely inspired, and
profitable for teaching, for conviction, for correction, for instruction in
scripture, inspired of God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to
instruct in justice:
Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for
reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,
Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for
correction, and for training in righteousness,
Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the truth, rebuking
error, correcting faults, and giving instruction for right living,
Scripture passage is inspired by God. All of them are useful for teaching,
pointing out errors, correcting people, and training them for a life that has
Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for
correcting, for training in righteousness,
writing inspired by God is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for
correction, and for instruction which is in righteousness,
Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for
correction, and for training in righteousness,
scripture is given by inspiration of
God, and is profitable for doctrine, for
reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
Scripture is God-breathed and profitable
for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,
Scripture is God-breathed, and is
profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in
part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another--showing us
truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live
Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for
correction, for training in righteousness;
Scripture is breathed by Elohim and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for
setting straight, for instruction in righteousness,
Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for
correction, and for instruction in righteousness,
you can see, there is a great deal of variety in the translation. The primary
difficulty, which is unsolved in the Greek, is that the first half the verse
can be translated with equal accuracy in two ways:
Scripture is inspired by God, or
Scripture which is inspired by God.
it may be that Paul is trying to tell Timothy to watch out for things which are
false Scripture. When the question of the canon of the New Testament arose,
Athanasius turned the verse around and asked if the candidate for Scripture met
the tests in the second half the verse. We may not have infallibility here so
much as the test for knowing what’s Scripture and what’s not.
this question I add some additional difficulties:
anything touched by human beings truly be inerrant, let alone infallible?
(This question is the primary reason behind the autonomic writing theory).
is a difference between translation and transliteration. When you see
“Every Scripture is God-breathed” that is NOT a translation; it’s a
transliteration. It is poor scholarship to do so.
inerrancy itself adds to the difficulties of evangelizing the serious,
so that last? Take a look at Mark 2:26. Mark names the High Priest who was
killed after aiding David in his flight from Saul. Mark says it’s Abiathar;
the Old Testament says it was his father, Abimilech. To those who believe in
infallibility, the solution is simple – the father had two names. To those who
hold to inspiration, we think it likely that Mark got his High Priests mixed up
– as Abiathar is the High Priest most associated with David. It’s the kind of
mistake someone might make when relying on his memory from school days; it’s a
normal slip up. Which tells me that this is not a carefully constructed fraud
– they would have caught that – but the eyewitness who was standing there
listening to Jesus.
important is all this?
give you the test: what would you do differently if you were shown to be
wrong? If you hold to inspiration only, it causes you to search the Scripture
more, not less. If you hold to filling of the Spirit, you know that what you
are reading came through men whose differences in style did not affect the
truth contained therein – and that means that its meaning is open to all. To
hold to inspiration only is more work; but the results are the same in
The test is this: does
the Scripture do what Paul says it does? If it is NOT “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for
correction, for training in righteousness;”
are doing it wrong.
weight of the Scriptures is far greater than the arguments about inspiration.
They are not just instructional, they lead to salvation (read verse 15 again).
I have one last thought for you? The word translated “inspired” does not
actually transliterate into “God breathed.” It correctly transliterates into
“God breathed into.” That phrase is one you’ve heard before. I submit that as
God breathed the breath of life into Adam, He has breathed the Scriptures into
the church, and they are as the breath of life to us.