Saturday, January 4, 2014

Is the Bible Really the Word of God?

This essay is now published in the Springfield News-Leader!

The short answer is: if you believe it is, then so it is!  But the early followers of Jesus did not share this holy view of the Bible—were it otherwise the Bible would not contain contradictions and errors, which it does.
Mr. Paul Summers, in a News-Leader column (1/4/14) made a case for homosexuality being sinful based on two main propositions: 1. "The Bible is the very word of God," and 2. "There is no contradiction in the Scriptures because God cannot lie."  Mr. Summers is wrong on both counts.  The truth of the matter is that his argument is based on his belief about God and the Bible.  The Christian Bible (meaning it includes Hebrew Scriptures and a collection of Christian texts) has many instances in which it disagrees with itself, as many conservative scholars well know.  Otherwise they would not argue that the original autographs of the Bible do not contain contradictions and errors.  The problem with this argument is that no original autographs exist!  Most New Testament texts are third century and later (two small fragments each of John and Matthew exist from the second century), and the bulk of the Hebrew Bible manuscripts date from the ninth and tenth centuries Common Era.  Hence the "original manuscripts argument" is specious at best, for it claims nothing about the manuscripts that have survived from antiquity, which do contain contradictions and errors, and from which we derive the versions of the Bible that serve the church today.
            It is also the case (unless you believe differently) that the Bible is a human word about God (and other things), since human beings authored the original texts and other human beings later copied them, freely making changes as it seemed best to individual scribes.  The Bible becomes God's word for many by means of the belief that God inspired its original authors (probably not the later scribes, since under the "original autographs theory" scribes introduced the contradictions and errors).  There is no evidence to validate the inspiration of these writings, however, except the belief that such is the case.  And in any case a number of theories exist about how inspiration may have occurred.
            I have no objection to Mr. Summers believing both of his principal propositions—many people do.  What I object to is his attempt to sell his personal beliefs about the Bible to the public as fact; hence he misleads the public in suggesting his belief is based on historical data when there is no data to demonstrate either proposition.  Indeed the evidence at least partly suggests a different explanation.
            The Bible is God's word only if you believe it is!  It is better understood, however, as a human search for God.  It should finally be noted that what authorizes Mr. Summers' argument about homosexuality is not God, but rather his own personal belief about the Bible.
Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University


bobinberea said...

If "The Bible is the very word of God," then I bet somewhere in that Bible we will be able to find the words, "The Bible is the very word of God." In English, of course. And no fudging by saying that although those precise words are not to be found anywhere in the Bible, this is nevertheless the obvious inference to be drawn from 2 Timothy 3:16. I don't want to see human rationality, logic, and clever argumentation exercised on this weighty divine matter. I just want to see "the very word of God." In print. In English. Just the way ancient Jews and Christians wrote it.

Ozark Uncle said...

Charlie, I shared this with my 400+ Facebook friends. Here is my lead-in to your blog piece. Thanks much. "SANTA, AN IN-LAW, AND A DEAR FRIEND brought me three new books to read on Christmas day. Interestingly, all three are written by believers of what I will call for the moment as "Religion X". Aunt Joy Brown is reading one, I'm trying to read a second one. But I'm struggling in my read in large part because I continue to perceive (I try to stay away from the word "believe" for me) that the Christian Bible is not the inspired word of God. Here I'm sharing a recent piece from MSU Professor Emeritus Charles Hedrick's blog. He uses his blog to test out narratives that will eventually end up in the Springfield News Leader. If you read it, you'll see it's a rebuttal to a prior editorial in the News Leader. Late in Charlie's piece he makes this statement: "The Bible is God's word only if you believe it is! It is better understood, however, as a human search for God. " Please read that sentence again--yes, the Bible is very important to lots of us (including me) as our souls try to connect with their creator(s). If you disagree, hang onto your belief--that's one aspect of the freedom that Americans enjoys." By the way, "Religion X" is the traditional Church of Christ view.

Charles Hedrick said...

Good Morning Uncle Ken!
I thank you for sharing my piece with your very numerous Facebook Friends--I am impressed at the following you have, but then you are a very interesting writer. What I was trying to say in the blog piece was that the statement "the Bible is the Word of God" is a confession and not a bit of general data. There is no way that the item can be proven objectively. You either believe it or you don't. Confessional statements are personal preference or opinion statements. It is like trying to define "beauty"--beauty lies in the eye of the beholder! What is beautiful to one person may not be to another person. Hence one person reads the Bible and finds the texts to be interesting ancient texts, but they would no more try to make modern life conform to the Bible and its many blind ethical alleys than forcing modern life to conform to the Iliad and the Odyssey, which in many ways were the "Bibles" of early antiquity. As you say, the Bible is very important to many of us--no doubt for different reasons, but in my view it is not a divine document but a very flawed human document, and that is not a confession but rather an observation. Please greet Aunt Joy for me.

Charles Hedrick said...

Hi Bob,
I am about to "bring coals to Newcastle," as the Brits say. You know this better than I, but to follow up on your comment about 2 Tim 3:16 for my other readers: The word Scripture in 2 Tim 3:16 is a reference to the Hebrew or Jewish Bible. The Christian Scriptures, containing the Jewish Scriptures plus several "Christian" writings is a much later development. The earliest followers of Jesus used the Hebrew Bible in Greek translation as their Holy Scriptures. "Christian" writings as a collection did not achieve parity as Holy Scripture on a par with the Hebrew Bible until much later. The earliest extant Christian Bibles were 4th century and later and then they included among the New Testament collection texts that are not now included in the New Testament.
I can only wish that more people lived as you do "in Berea," where the "Scriptures are searched daily" (Acts 17:11) to see whether the word of faith being proclaimed was actually so! Does that make them the earliest skeptics, do you suppose?

bobinberea said...

Hi, Charlie! I see your piece is now available online on the N-L website. Deb reads that religiously, but I don't. Except when people like you write, it mostly brings on heartburn for me.
I admire your nerves of steel in taking on these issues. It's hard enough for me to tackle them in the relative safety of a college classroom, although even that can get tense, as you know.
Next Monday classes start here, and once again I'll teach my course, "History of the Bible." I surely deal with the 2 Tim 3 passage once again.
_pasa graphe theopneustos_--There's enough ambiguities there to drive a truck through. (I wonder what "god breath" or "god wind" or "god spirit" is supposed to mean? How on earth is that supposed to work? The author gives no clue what he is thinking.) No problem, of course, if one makes up one's mind about the Bible first and then reads that conclusion into the text. You hit the nail on the head, therefore, when you identify the nub of the issue as _what people think about_ the Bible, rather than the Bible itself.
Enough. Thanks again for fighting the good fight on these matters!
Bob Fowler

Steve Finnell said...

The following are excerpts from the yet to be published new Bible translation: The Denominational Standard Version.

Acts 2:38 Then Peter said to them, "Repent for the forgiveness of your sins, however, you do not have to be baptized in water for forgiveness of sins because the thief on the cross was saved without being baptized."(DSV)

John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that the few who were predetermined for salvation will be saved and all others will burn in hell. (DSV)

1 Timothy 2:5 For there is one God and many Mediators between God and man, that man Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and other dead saints.(DSV)

1 Corinthians 6:9 Do you not know that unrighteous Christians will enter the kingdom of God, because of once saved always saved. Unrepentant Christians who are fornicators, idolaters, homosexuals, and drunkards will inherit the kingdom of God because of eternal security.(DSV)

Mark 16:16 "He who believes will be saved. He who is not baptized cannot join a denominational church, but may enter heaven.(DSV)

2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture, all church catechisms, all creed books, all post Biblical books of new revelation, all extra-Biblical writings are given by inspiration of God, so that the man of God may be complete.(DSV)

The Denominational Standard Version has not been written as of now, however, it would have to be written in order to support denominational doctrine.