Continuing the conversation. Recently I wrote a post about whether the question (Is the Bible Trustworthy?) the right question, or as I argued is their a better question to ask. Joanne decided to respectively disagree and hence we decided to turn this into a conversation. Which if you’re new to Misfits is a big part of what we’re about. Practicing and modeling for others the ability to have respectful conversations with other Christians whom we disagree with, even extremely disagree with.
And if you’ve read anything from Joanne you’ve probably noticed that shes one smart cookie! Having an intellectual conversation with her of any sorts will leave you feeling like you’re brain just went to the gym for the first time ever, and lucky you it was leg day, for you’re brain!
So do I expect that I’ll convince you of my position, probably not. And that’s okay. I think what’s most important is how are disagreements are handled. To truly follow Christ we must do all things in love, including our disagreeing. So with that let’s jump into my reply. (If you haven’t read our previous posts leading up to this one click the link below)
“Is The Bible Trustworthy?” Is this the question we should be asking?
Why Should I Trust the Bible?
Analogies and Metaphors always eventually break down as C.S. Lewis so aptly pointed out long ago. So although I could begin by critiquing you’re analogy I think it would be unhelpful in continuing the conversation due to the said eventual breakdown of all anaolgies. Instead I want to begin with a quote from you’re response. “Is the Bible trustworthy?” Does the Bible accurately represent what God has said and done, and how God thinks and feels?”
To answer these questions one has to define what they think Inspiration means. As I’ve argued my own position on inspiration in greater depth elsewhere it’ll suffice to briefly summarize my own position. But I’ll hold off on that for just a bit. First I want to address this from a different angle giving my answer and then fleshing that out.
“Does the Bible accurately represent what God has said and done, and how God thinks and feels?” In and of itself as a whole (assuming the bible’s great theological diversity it must be said that this is a very generalized statement and I think there are certainly parts that do a better job than others. The book of Matthew for instance) I do not believe the Bible accurately represents what God has said and done, and how God thinks and feels.
Point in case is the ethical and moral diversity in Scripture. In Exodus 20:5 we’re told that God punishes children to the third and fourth generation for the sins of their parents. The author of Ezekiel must have been uncomfortable with this because in Ezekiel 18:1-29 it records God saying God doesn’t punish the children for the sins of their parents. In both these cases God is said to be the one who said these things. Meaning that either God contradicts God’s-Self, God changes or evolves over time, or that the authors of Scripture were humans who’s understanding of God had changed.
Lets dig in a bit deeper and take a look at Numbers 15:32-36 which states,
32 When the Israelites were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the sabbath day. 33 Those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses, Aaron, and to the whole congregation. 34 They put him in custody, because it was not clear what should be done to him. 35 Then the Lord said to Moses, “The man shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him outside the camp.” 36 The whole congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him to death, just as the Lord had commanded Moses.
Christian Theology and History has as far as I am aware of always made the claim that Jesus is the Full Revelation of God, and while some may be comfortable with the idea that God is the kind of being that commands the death of a man for picking up sticks on a Saturday, there are other parts of Scripture that seem to suggest that others we’re not comfortable with this kind of a god. If we’re familiar with the story of Jesus and His disciples picking and eating grain on the Sabbath and then his healing of the crippled man later on that same Sabbath then we realize that their seems to be a very large gap between the author of Mark and his (probably a dude) understanding of God. And if Mark has understood Jesus correctly then Jesus’s own understanding of God. The Pharisees at least according to the precedent set in the Torah are probably in the right here.
Now you’ve probably noticed I am assuming the general authenticity of Mark’s witness, and not only that but I’m also assuming his is a more accurate depiction of God’s character. As I mentioned before I do believe their are parts of scripture that do a better job in accurately depicting their witness about God’s character than others. However for me that doesn’t mean that the Bible is overall trustworthy, as I hope my example suggests (suggests because one passage of scripture is not a good or full summary of a book as big as the bible, space does not permit me to give more examples) and there are certainly parts that I do not believe capture accurately who God is, the above passage being one example.
Furthermore in Deuteronomy 27 and 28 we’re given a theology that says if you do good, good will happen to you. And if you do bad you’ll be punished for it. Whereas the book of Job is widely understood to be a critique of this theology. The author of Job says bad doesn’t always just happen to those who do evil but for whatever reason (the answer is never given) sometimes the wicked prosper and sometimes the righteous suffer, and God is not necessarily the one controlling those actions. Later on in the New testament we’re told that Jesus’ disciples also held the theology from Deuteronomy. In John 9:1-5 his disciples ask him, “Rabbi, who sinned that this man was born blind, him or his parents?” Jesus agrees with the theology of Job and answers neither him or his parents sinned.
One last example: In Deuteronomy 7 as well as a number of other places, the text states that God commanded the Israelite’s to “totally destroy” the inhabitants of Canon. Most of us today would condemn any sort of mass scale genocide, especially after the holocaust. In Luke 6:27-36 Jesus commands us to “love our enemies, to do good to them, etc.” Something that cannot be reconciled with killing a whole nation, Jesus held (at least according to tradition and the New Testament) a different ethic than the authors of Deuteronomy and Joshua. My whole point is to say Scripture as a whole contains to much moral diversity, the good and the bad, for it to be something we place our trust in.
And if the Bible in places and as a whole does not in fact accurately represent what God has said, done, and how God thinks and feels then how can we trust it? Maybe how the Bible behaves actually leads us away from trusting it and points us to the person in whom we should place our trust.
This brings us back to the question of Inspiration and what it is. Adam Hamilton in his book, “Making Sense of the Bible,” does a wonderful job working out the possible implication of what Inspiration is. I share a very similar view of his. We might called it a Biographical view of Inspiration rather than the more well know Autobiographical view of Inspiration. To delve into a more through discussion of this click the following links How To Read The Bible (Series): What is Inspiration? Inspiration and Modern Authorship Christological vs. Biblical
But essentially the differences may be briefly laid out like this: In a Biographical view God is not the author of the Bible, but Humans are, and they are writing their interpretations of God in very real lived experiences with God.
The Autobiographical view says that God is the ultimate author of the bible.
These of course are very simplified definitions so I hope you take that into account.
As time and space is limited on such a platform (and since most readers aren’t this nerdy) I’ll go ahead and move on to my second point I want to make. I’ll begin by quoting you again.
“As I mentioned in a comment recently, what we know of Jesus’ presence and reality we know through our own subjective experience of Him, for some more vivid than for others. Some have seen Jesus with their physical eyes, spoken with Him, been touched, even embraced by Him, spent significant amounts of time with Him. They didn’t need a Bible for that, for Jesus was there Himself.
But, to know what Jesus said 2,000 years ago, to know what He did, to know about the cross and the resurrection, we look to the Bible. So, we ask, is this a reliable witness to those millennia-old events? Can I trust this document to be truthful?”
Here I believe you have stated that the Bible is how we know Christ today (tell me if I’ve misunderstood you). In the following paragraph I’m quoting myself (man this must seem like I have a big head, but I promise I’m just lazy).
This presupposes the Scriptures as our ultimate authority and as our primary way of knowing God, and that Christ is limited to them. Someone is only limited to a set of writings after they have died. Only after the person themselves has died is your primary way of knowing them merely through written texts. This seems to lead us to a dead Christ and a denial of the Resurrection. Charles Spurgeon is limited to texts, but that’s because he’s dead. You can only know Spurgeon through written texts because he’s dead. If Christ is really the Living Word of God, now having been Resurrected, then surely he is not limited to a set of writings. Surely we know Him primarily in person through the presence of the Holy Spirit. Which is not to say that any written texts about him are totally useless, only that they are not primary or necessary for our knowing of Christ.
Let me quickly state that I fully believe that you affirm the resurrection, but for the sake of space I chose not to revise my quote.
I think it also comes down to what kind of knowledge we think we need about Christ. I would probably say that the Bible is in some sense intellectual knowledge or information based on the fact that its a book and not a person. Whereas I believe that kind of knowledge that saves us isn’t information but relational knowledge which only happens in and through Christ.
Christ may meet us in and through Scripture since He is Incarnational in nature, but even then it is not the book in and of itself. But Christ is using the book as a platform or context in which to meet us. This is kinda hard for me to articulate my view of since I see this as a sort of mystical experience rather than a tangible one. Suffice it to say although the Bible may be used by God it is always God whom our trust is to be placed in. When we do encounter Christ in and through Scripture it is always Christ in whom we place our trust, but never the vehicle in which Christ makes Himself known.
Here at Misfits we believe that it is possible to give charity in real conversations and real disagreements. I hope that the conversation Joanne and I are having is evidence of this.