Thursday, December 5, 2019

Is the Bible Inspired?

While searching for Baptist churches online in the Kansas City Northland, I ran across this statement of one church’s belief about the Bible:

We believe the Holy Scriptures, consisting of Old and New Testaments only, to be the plenary, verbally inspired word of God, inerrant in the original manuscripts, authoritative, infallible and God-breathed…1

That is to say: the writings of the early Christians are without error and infallible because they are “inspired” (i.e., God breathed). Is that true do you suppose? The idea that this high status is extended only to the “autographs” (i.e., original texts) of the biblical texts is a tacit recognition that the Bible we use in church on Sunday morning is not inspired and hence is not without error or infallible. What we use in church are not the autographs (i.e., the original author’s copy of a text), but are copies of the autographs. In fact they are reconstructions by Modern scholars. Here is a shocking datum: no two ancient copies of the some 5000 ancient Greek manuscripts surviving from antiquity, virtually all dating from the 3rd century and later, agree alike in all particulars. Most textual critics work with the assumption, however, that the original readings of the autograph of a given biblical text are there somewhere among all the copies of a given text that survived from antiquity, but no one knows exactly what those readings were. Nevertheless text critics imagine they are restoring biblical texts to the “original autographs.” What they achieve, however, are the earliest probable exemplars. The texts of the Bible we use in church are imperfect copies of the original autographs.

Second Timothy 3:16, however, claims that “all scripture is inspired by God.”2 Is that true do you suppose? The term “inspired by God” (theopneustos) is only used this once in the New Testament, but there are a few scattered instances of its use in “pagan” literature. The “sacred writings” (2 Tim 3:15) for which this claim is made is probably the Hebrew Old Testament (cf. 2 Tim 2:19; 2 Tim 5:18). The term “all” or “every,” however, suggests to my ear that the author of this text may have had other individual writings in mind not limited to the Hebrew Old Testament. It could not have been the “New Testament,” however, which did not exist as a recognizable collection when Second Timothy was written.

The really odd thing is that not even God can inspire a text, unless s/he uses an eraser and rewrites the text with the divine quill. That is because texts are inanimate things. Of course, God can inspire the authors of texts to write, but they are still hampered by their abilities and life situations, and the written product will reflect the abilities and inabilities of the author. Nevertheless, any text (no matter how poorly written) has an innate potential for inspiring readers, but when inspiration occurs, it is caused by the reader’s response to the text. In other words, it is the reader that is inspired, not the text. I cannot think of any text that everyone would agree has an innate identifiable quality that can be described as “inspiration,” and that includes the Bible. Although I find First Corinthians 13 to be an inspiring text, that does not make the chapter inspired, for others may disagree, and I am unable to explicitly quantify “inspiration.” The Bible also contains texts that are not inspiring. In my view 1Tim 2:8-15 is an example of an uninspiring text because of its clear hatred of women.3

When we talk about “inspired” texts, we are actually describing how we respond to the text rather than to some aspect of the text. Whereas one may claim that the Bible is “God-breathed,” another may make that claim, for example, for the Book of Mormon because it was given to Joseph Smith by an angel—just as Moses received the Torah (Gal 3:19, Acts 7:38, 53; Heb 2:2; Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 15.5.3).4

What claims does your church make for the Bible?

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

2See Hedrick, “Revelation and Meaning,” Wry Thoughts about Religion, Saturday, August 31. 2013: http://blog.charleshedrick.com/search?q=revelation+and+meaning
3Misogyny is the appropriate expression to describe such views as this text contains.
4See Hedrick, “How did Moses Come by the Torah,” Wry Thoughts about Religion, Tuesday, September 30, 2014. http://blog.charleshedrick.com/search?q=moses+and+law

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Visiting a Baptist Contemporary "Worship" Service

I stumbled into a contemporary worship service at a Southern Baptist church in the Missouri northland recently. The service was punctuated by emotional outbursts (people standing with arms uplifted or clapping to the rhythm of the music while the congregation was largely seated; loud “amens!” during the preaching).

            There was no pulpit or choir loft but the front of the auditorium was a raised stage. Three music leaders were spread out in line on the stage: a central leader playing a guitar with two persons on either side leading out in the singing. The communion table was out in front of the stage by about five yards behind which the director of the service stood, prayed, made announcements and introductions, and closed the service.

The seating of the auditorium was in the half-round style. The arrangement of the auditorium reminded me of stage performances. In my youth, however, a central pulpit had signaled the primacy of preaching in Baptist worship, but in this case the speaker of the day stood behind the music stand used by the guitar player in the center of the stage over which the speaker wandered. Three numbered hymns from the Baptist Hymnal were listed in the single sheet program guide. Two were sung by the congregation; the third was sacrificed to “praise songs” where people learned tunes by repetition from words displayed on screens on both sides of the auditorium. The mood of the service appeared to encourage the emotional displays and states of ecstasy. As an outsider I found myself rather distracted, and was reminded of Paul’s gentle attempts to correct what he saw as the emotional excesses of the Corinthian worship (1 Cor14):

14:15: Pray with spirit and mind; sing with spirit and mind
14:19: In church he would rather speak 5 words with his mind to instruct others than 10, 000 in a tongue
14:26-32: Everything done should be orderly and for edification
14:33: God is not a God of confusion, but of peace
14:26-33, 40: Things should be done decently and in good order

Naturally congregations must choose their own worship style for public worship; for not all find the same worship styles to be meaningful and uplifting—but also not all worship styles educate (1 Cor14:26). Some are even harmful—animal and human sacrifices, for example. Congregations must develop what will work for their benefit. Nevertheless, what transpired in the service that Sunday made me feel somewhat uncomfortable.*

Paul’s own view of public worship is suggested in Romans 12:1-2. He seems to have regarded worship as intelligent, rational service to God involving the whole person. He specifically mentions that worship should transform the mind rather than being conformed to what was the present rage—or as he put it “conforming to this present age.”

Paul argued (1 Cor 11:27-30) that it mattered how the community worshipped (1 Cor 11:29-30; 14:23-25). When the Corinthian saints gathered for the Lord’s Supper, for example, he said that it was “not for the better but for the worse” (1 Cor 11:17), because they were not conscious that worship was a corporate or joint affair (1 Cor 11:33). The Corinthians appear to have engaged in a kind of individualized worship (1 Cor 11:17-22), but Paul conceived of worship as a “gathering of the saints” (1 Cor 1:2; 11:17-26), whom he conceived as the “body of Christ” (1 Cor 12:27). Hence, worship was a corporate act involving a gathering of the body of Christ collectively. One can only wonder how Paul might have responded to the individualism reflected in a “contemporary” worship service in the Baptist tradition. Would he have seen it as being “for the better” do you suppose?

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University

*Compare what Paul says about the reactions of outsiders to public gatherings of the Corinthian saints:1 Cor 14:16, 23.