The notion that I am addressing (per Erik’s comment) is
that the bible does claim inerrancy/infallibility–or at the very least teaches principles which require and imply them. Ps 19:7, Prov 30:5, 2 Tim 3:16,17 are good places to start.
Let’s look at these references (including some of the verses around them):
1 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
2 Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.
3 They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them.
4 Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun,
5 which is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
6 It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is deprived of its warmth.
7 The law of the LORD is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple.
8 The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes.
This is a beautiful example! Let’s note that David wrote this, so the only scripture (which it doesn’t say anything about) that he knew was the Pentateuch… the law that was given the Hebrew people. David only notes that the “law” is perfect and refreshing. I wonder if his notion of perfect would be what we mean by perfect… or if it means inerrant (without error… see post on definitions)? He also says that the statutes of the Lord are to be trusted. Ok, I definitely trust God. More than anything else, I think it is important to note that he leads up each statement with feelings… leading me to think that he is not focused on facts at all.
And here is something that fully explains why I cannot see the Bible as completely fact, only that it was meant to say what the author meant it to say. David fully believed that the sun moved across the sky. Verses 1-6 clearly show that. But we know that it is not the case. If God wanted the Bible to be complete fact or he was telling the writers what to write, couldn’t he have just told them the sun stays in one place and saved us years of research? Beyond this, it seems to me that David is placing as much emphasis on the physical world as he is the “law” of God!
“Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.
Interestingly, this says nothing about scripture, the bible, or even the “law.” It is written by a guy named Agur, who we don’t even know exists… he is not mentioned anywhere in the bible. I struggle with using this as the bible claiming to be without error because it says nothing of the sort… and the proverbs seem to be a collection of wisdom sayings by various people, mainly Solomon. Every religion has collections of wisdom sayings which essentially could be interchangeable due to their similarity.
14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that all God’s people [a] may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
I really like this reference… precisely because it tells us what the scripture should be used for, not because it says anything about it being inerrant or infallible. It is about action and purpose and pointing to Jesus rather than self-claims. First, the only scripture Paul and timothy had was the Hebrew scriptures. They did not save anyone… it was faith in Jesus that saved, but the scriptures helped in discovering the way Paul and Timothy were to be in order to follow in the way of Jesus. There is strong reference to example, community, and Jesus… but no claims of inerrancy or infallibility. It doesn’t seem like these were really issues that early Jesus followers really worried about. God-breathed does not mean inerrant.
8 thoughts on “What the Bible says about itself”
Interesting post. So if you undermine the authority of the Word of God, where do you get your authority from? On what authority do you stand? Does it come from the church, from tradition, from feeling? Because it can’t come from the Word of God, having said what you did.
So you have never witnessed the sun traveling across the sky? Granted, it is the earth moving, but we see the sun start the day on one horizon and finish at another. The earth is the one rotating, but the sun is still traveling across our sky. Any chance that is what was meant by David?
Thanks for the comment and the questions. We have to determine where the authority for the Bible lies. I believe the Bible has authority and it is not my intent to undermine it, by any means. But maybe I can ask this question: Do we believe in God and Jesus because we believe in the bible or do we believe in the Bible because we believe in God and Jesus? I hope it is the later of the two! If our faith in Jesus is determined by our “literal” interpretation of the bible, we are in big trouble, if you ask me.
Authority comes from God, who gives scripture its authority. Also, if we, as the Bible says, are the body of Christ, his presence in this world, and if the spirit of God is manifested in our communities as we are full of his spirit… I would say that there is a measure of authority that comes from the community interpreting the bible as well.
Now communities change, as culture’s change… we, by no means get it right all the time. So a community approaching the bible with humility, seeking God as the spirit reveals things to us and as we look at the whole of scripture (which is given authority by God), will be headed in a good direction.
I do not worship, follow, or submit to the Bible, in and of itself. It is Christ that I worship, follow, and submit myself to. The bible is helpful in the growth of “wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” Paul’s words!
In regards to the sun… do you really think that david was using imagery because he really knew that the sun was stationary… or because he actually thought that it moved? I have a lot of difficulty separating the first half of Psalms from its human component. Are you familiar with the notion of the firmament that the ancient near eastern cultures believed? Sounds a lot like “a tent pitched for the sun in the heavens.” https://natebettger.com/2007/12/12/the-bible-and-ancient-mythology-my-emerging-understanding/
I am ok with saying David didn’t know as much as we do about creation… even God… because it doesn’t shake my faith in God or in Jesus or in the Spirit who is with us. They are bigger than what I see in the Bible. And being ok with this does not shatter my faith either because my faith is not in the bible. It is in something|someone that is bigger than the bible… and scriptures point to.
Well stated Nate. I believe that God is constantly revealing God’s self to humanity. We have the 66 books of how humans described God’s revelation to them. We also have the 1900 years of writers since the last book of the Bible was written that have continued to record how God has been revealed to them. And today we have people who are guided by the Spirit to reveal God to us today.
God’s revelation did not stop 1900 years ago. God is a living presence through the Holy Spirit right now. Jesus is risen and continues to be the source of God understanding to people today.
Yet, humans do not know the whole of God in all of this, much less in the limited set of words in the Biblical texts. God does not fit well in to the Bible box. We in the emerging church and others current movement of the Spirit sense a strong up welling of the Spirit of God that calls us to a much broader view of Grace, God’s chosen, true believers, the saved, etc. than has been perceived by church leaders in the past.
Where does this authority come from? From the guidance of the present Holy Spirit, which/whom Is God, as much or more than the frozen in time words of the Bible.
Good post Nate.
The passage in I Tim 3 is one where I would say that scripture’s inerrancy is implicit. If all scripture is God-breathed, and God is without error, then one could come to the conclusion that scripture is without error. To not come to that conclusion would say (to me, at least) that one either isn’t confident in the current christian canon as the proper scripture, or isn’t confident in God’s ability to transmit the scriptures to us successfully.
Your statement that you “do not … submit to the Bible” is a bit confusing. You stated that God gives scripture its authority, and that you submit to Christ. If the Bible’s precepts carry the weight and authority of God, why would you not submit to them? Not worshiping the bible I can understand–but not submitting to it, I don’t follow.
Furthermore, to come to the conclusion that “authority comes from a community interpreting the Bible” is interesting. That is a syllogism I have not yet seen and I’m not sure I agree with (though I haven’t had the time to fully contemplate).
In the end, I feel much of this comes down to semantics. A dialogue of this nature is difficult if we don’t agree on certain terms, definitions, etc. Nonetheless, it is a good discussion.
When you raise the issue of “God-breathed” scripture, you’re leaning very heavily on one particular interpretation of that term/phrase. I think if you were to study what “inspiration” (being God-breathed) and “authority” meant to the early Christians you’d realize it is a far-cry from how some fundamentalists/foundationalists read it now.
So which interpretation should we favor? It seems to me we should rely more heavily on the earlier interpretation. Otherwise we’re calling the Bible central but making it out to say whatever we wish it to. And that’s neither historically accurate nor intellectually honest.
Please remember that the early Christians never assumed that the human factor was squeezed out when God-breathed scripture was written. Both man and God are always present in the text.
So, to conclude, certainly scripture is “inspired” and “authoritative”, but not in the way that is assumed by foundationalists.
To answer your questions, here are my thoughts.
As Darren said, I don’t think “God-breathed” means without error. It seems to me that the early followers of Jesus would remember that God breathed life into humans. They would also perhaps remember that Jesus breathed on the disciples. Or even in Ezekiel, where he asks for life to be breathed into the valley of dry bones. That phrase has nothing to do with inerrancy, at least from what I see in the Bible. Human-kind, bones, and the disciples are far from inerrant! Rather, in terms of scripture it seems to have something to do with life being given.
I definitely put confidence in the canon as the “proper” scripture, but I am looking at the whole of it… and I am remembering that it is part of my story, the beginnings of the story of God’s people and the followers of Jesus. I also am fully confident that God can transmit all kinds of things very clearly to his children. I have no doubt about that… but I recognize that it is impossible to separate the human component from how the authors, or you and I, receive it. So no, I don’t have confidence that humanity has ever fully understood what God is trying to get across to us. The bible is full of examples of this! It truly is a beautiful and realistic thing.
To further your inquiry into my statement about not submitting to the bible… remember that I noted that I don’t submit “to the Bible, in and of itself.” As Paul says the bible is helpful in growing in wisdom that leads to faith in Jesus. Emphasis on Jesus. I’m talking about starting places. I don’t start with the Bible which leads me to God… I start with God who leads me to the bible.
Erik, would you be up for chatting in person? I’d love to meet up. Email me: bettger2[at]gmail[dot]com
Thanks for continuing the dialog,
So, are you saying that any errors lie in the transmission or interpretation of the scriptures?
Regarding submission, to say you don’t submit to the Bible “in and of itself” is fine so long as your submission of Jesus results in submission to the Bible (“if you love me, you will keep my commandments”).
I’d love to meet in person, but it couldn’t be any time soon. I have a new baby, a very busy business, and a lot of traveling in the near future.
I don’t really think that God errors as he communicates to us… but all we can do is interpret it, and I think that most often humans error in that… that’s why community is so important.
So I think there are errors in the transmission and the interpretation. But I don’t see it as such a serious issue, frankly. I think it is reality. We do the best with what we can, and I believe that God helps us in the process. But we are not going to get 100 percent fact…. ever. And besides, I don’t think that’s how the bible times folks viewed historical writing anyway. They were concerned with 100 percent fact… otherwise the gospels would be a lot more similar.
And yes on your second paragraph. The bible is the definitive source we have on jesus.
No worries about being busy. It would be good to meet up sometime though. Which church are you at these days? Sometimes I get a chance to visit other places.