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
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
I was ordained United Methodist in 1968 and resigned those credentials in 1973. Hope this somewhat admirable comprehensive quote is okay.
"The Bible is a collection of sixty-six books, thirty-nine in the Old Testament (or Hebrew Bible) and twenty-seven in the New Testament. These books were written over a one-thousand-year period in three languages: Hebrew, Aramaic (the language Jesus spoke), and Greek.
The books are of different lengths and different literary styles. In the Hebrew Bible we find legends, histories, liturgies for community worship, songs, proverbs, sermons, even a poetic drama (Job). In the New Testament are Gospels, a history, many letters, and an apocalypse (Revelation). Yet through it all the Bible is the story of the one God, who stands in a covenant relationship with the people of God.
In early times and over many generations, the sixty-six books were thoughtfully used by faithful people. In the process their merits were weighed, and the community of believers finally gave them special authority. Tested by faith, proven by experience, these books have become sacred; they've become our rule for faith and practice.
In Israel the Book of Deuteronomy was adopted as the Word of God about 621 B.C. The Torah, or Law (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible), assumed authority around 400 B.C.; the Prophets about 200 B.C.; and the Writings about 100 B.C. After a struggle the Christians determined that the Hebrew Bible was Scripture for them as well. The New Testament as we know it was formed and adopted by church councils between A.D. 200 and A.D. 400.
We say that God speaks to us through the Bible and that it contains all things necessary for salvation. This authority derives from three sources: We hold that the writers of the Bible were inspired by God, that they were filled with God's Spirit as they wrote the truth to the best of their knowledge. We hold that God was at work in the process of canonization, during which only the most faithful and useful books were adopted as Scripture. We hold that the Holy Spirit works today in our thoughtful study of the Scriptures, especially as we study them together, seeking to relate the old words to life's present realities.
The Bible's authority is, therefore, nothing magical. For example, we do not open the text at random to discover God's will. The authority of Scripture derives from the movement of God's Spirit in times past and in our reading of it today.
We United Methodists put the Bible to work. In congregational worship we read from the Bible. Through preaching, we interpret its message for our lives. It forms the background of most of our hymns and liturgy. It's the foundation of our church school curriculum. Many of us use it in our individual devotional lives, praying through its implications day by day. However, we admit that there's still vast "biblical illiteracy" in our denomination. We need to help one another open the Bible and use it.
Perhaps the Bible is best put to use when we seriously answer these four questions about a given text: (1) What did this passage mean to its original hearers? (2) What part does it play in the Bible's total witness? (3) What does God seem to be saying to my life, my community, my world, through this passage? and (4) What changes should I consider making as a result of my study?
From United Methodist Member's Handbook, Revised by George Koehler (Discipleship Resources, 2006), pp. 80-81. Alt 2019."
I wrote a chapter discussing evangelical biblical criticism. One book I quoted is below. Your first quote is also one that, according to Grant Osborne (The Bible in the Churches, edited by Kenneth Hagen), is a keystone of evangelical biblical criticism. Osborne writes (p.138), “original meaning... is at the heart of the evangelical view of Scripture.” (This is what is considered, more or less, “inerrancy” and is the goal of evangelical criticism.) It tries to tease out the original meaning, the original intent of the authors, not by historical-critical means but through what they call historical-theological. The major tool is grammatical-historical, the goal being “elucidation” of the text, with all of the other criticisms (textual, source, redaction, and so forth) subordinate. The example of exegesis is given of a text in Ephesians, in which, according to the author, the purpose is not to look at authorship since there is evangelical consensus that he was the author, or at a historical sitz-im-leben, but what “Paul” meant, and how that can be “contextualized” and applied. It has to be “worked” so that it both fits the “past community” (they consider it a “captivity epistle” from Paul) and the “current community.” I found this idea in several evangelical commentaries. The original autographs are considered the “word of God” thus inerrant and I thought that problematic (invalid and unreliable) for too many reasons to list here. It seems to go even beyond apologetics. One of the statements in this particular essay was, “... evangelicals consistently stress that Scripture alone must dictate our faith” (p. 155). This opens a modern world to the acceptance of many views that are considered harmful and wrong in today’s world (misogyny, slavery, homophobia, and “exceptionalism,” to name a few).
You asked what claims our church made for the Bible. In my “garden,” the Bible is a two volume collection of ancient prose and poetry that gives those who read it examples of propagandic views of the authors captured in their world while they look backward at a largely imagined past and look forward with apprehension. I think the ethnography of Herodotus was more even-handed.
Dennis Dean Carpenter
We believe that the bible was written long ago by people who lived far away as they attempted to articulate what was of vital importance to them in understanding their time and place. We are convinced that God is not a person, and therefore does not write, inspire, or read books (nor sleep, eat, defecate, or procreate) and that to consider that the invisible mystery of the universe would do any of these anthropomorphic things would be silly in any context, especially anytime after the 4th century.
Is there value in dividing the world into those who are silly about "the invisible mystery of the universe" and those who are not? The primary definition of silly in the American Heritage Dictionary is "showing a lack of good sense; stupid."
If the shoe fits...
I do appreciate Judaism's dividing of the Tanach into three sections. They only claim that the first portion (The Pentateuch) was the direct word of God as dictated to Moses, which they call the Torah. The second portion is a little less weighty, but still carries authority and they call it the Nevi'im which is indirect communication to the prophets through dreams or visions- not the same as the direct words of God being delivered to Moses. And the least authoritative are the wisdom books (Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes) which they call Ketuvi'im "inspired writings." I wish the NT would classify its contents in a similar pecking order. That is one of the many reasons that Judaism's teachings make more sense to me than Christianity's.
1) The church I used to attend was non-denominational. They taught that the Bible was the infallible, inerrant word of God- similar to the statement you provided from the church you visited. However, I'd love to know what the Catholic church teaches... Do you know if Catholics believe the bible to be inerrant? They seem to be more liberal and diverse in their doctrinal beliefs, but I'm not certain of that.
2) I know I've asked you this before regarding the Septuagint, but I just want to make sure I'm correct. The Greek translation of the Hebrew bible that we all know as our Old Testament took place in the 2nd century. (the original one of the Pentateuch burned in 400 BCE in Alexandria) The reason I ask has to do with this so called inerrancy of the NT letters of Paul... Why would he misquote Psalm 40:6 in Hebrews 10:5 by adding the words "a body has been prepared for me?" Pastors say it is because Paul was quoting from the Septuagint. The Septuagint didn't even exist till the 2nd century! (I realize there's disagreement about Paul's authorship of Hebrews) However, why doesn't anyone question the credibility of NT writers who quote passages from the Tanach that are inaccurate? Have you ever brought these inaccuracies to the attention of your Sunday school teachers?
3) You mentioned "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." So does that mean that the letters of Paul are not really in his own words? Are there any known original letters of his to exist? How can we know if they are indeed his own writings?
4) Do you know what a Noahide is and do you personally know any?
Thank you as always! Elizabeth
I still don't understand the value of dividing the population into those who are silly and those who aren't. I'm not trying to be difficult, just seeking clarity in understanding. I hope that others will reply.
Good morning Good Friend Roger,
Perhaps you could explain what the "invisible mystery of the universe" is exactly?
One reason, I suppose, if one could just identify the silly (those who are considered to show a lack of good sense)one could avoid them, in case it is "catching." But, it seems that Christianity was divided into different "camps," each thinking the other outrageous, early on. Reading especially Galatians, the Ignatiana, Irenaeus, Tertullian, one can consider it a legacy of early Christianity. "Silly" is light to, for instance, Tertullian's description of Marcion's people (I'll just post one thought from the beginning of Book 1, AM: "The dead bodies of their parents they cut up with their sheep, and devour at their feasts. They who have not died so as to become food for others, are thought to have died an accursed death." "Silly" ain't so bad...
Dennis Dean Carpenter
Good afternoon Elizabeth,
Para 1: I don't know of any traditional Christian today who distinguishes between NT texts in terms of more authoritative/less authoritative. But in antiquity Eusebius tells of some books not being used by certain groups.
Para 2: My understanding of Catholic teaching is that the Bible is subordinate to the authority of the church. If that is correct I doubt that "inerrant" is a word that would be used by Catholic priests in referring to the Bible.
The Septuagint is thought to have been translated in stages between the third century BC and the second century BC. Hebrews is not contested in critical thought but is not regarded as a Pauline writing.
You raise an interesting question (Hebrews 10:5-7 is supposedly a quotation of Psalm 40:7-9).
In the phrase that you focus on:
Heb 10:5 reads"...a body you have prepared for me."
Psalm 40:6 the RSV translates as: " you have given me an open ear."
Psalm 40:7 LXX reads (my translation): "...and ears you have prepared for me."
It appears to me that the author of Hebrews is working with a corrupt translation of Psalm 40 in which "ears" reads "body." If so it is a Docetic concept (Christ is not human but only appears to be human).
Such issues I regularly brought up in Bible study when it was appropriate.
Para 3: With one exception the undisputed letters of Paul are agreed to be Pauline. It is without question that no original autographs of NT texts exist among the copies, which are from the 3rd century and later (only a very few are from the 2nd century). Paul is a first century figure. How would we know if our reconstructions of the Pauline letters are his exact words?
Para 4: I assume that a Noahide is a descendent of Noah, which would include all of humanity (from the perspective of a religious person).
Good Evening Charlie,
My question regarding the Pauline letters was not clear- my real question is this: Since there are no original autographs of Paul's letters, how do we know he even authored them? Do we even know if he existed?
With regard to Psalm 40:6, the reason I bring that to your attention is because it is used to prove that Christ was foreshadowed in the OT. Just like Psalm 22:16 is used by missionaries to convince Jews that Jesus was being prophesied with "pierced hands and feet" part of that passage. Do you think that certain passages in the LXX were translated in such a way so as to deliberately foreshadow the birth and subsequent crucifixion of Christ? (Is. 7:14 being the most well known.) Orthodox Jews do not appreciate their holy scriptures being tampered with by inserting the presence of Jesus Christ in order to win souls from Judaism... Jews for Jesus being the worst perpetrator of this outrage. (I respect the Catholic Church for banning the proselytizing of Jews into the Christian faith) A growing number of Christians' eyes are being opened to this corrupt practice. Rather than converting to Judaism, they choose to become Noahides and follow the seven laws of Noah. (I don't know them off the top of my head, I'll post them later) A popular website for Noahides is "TenakTalk.com" and many former Messianic Jews have come back to the Jewish faith as a result as well.
When you read the OT, do you see foreshadowing of Jesus's ministry, crucifixion, and Messianic role? In other words, does the OT point to the coming ofJesus Christ as we're taught in traditional churches, especially this time of year? Many thanks and best Christmas wishes to you, Elizabeth
Good Morning Elizabeth,
I suppose you could ask the very same question about any figure of human history whom we only know through his/her literary activity. We know about Paul as a figure of human history only through his letters. The human being Paul is a literary construct from his letters. The undisputed letters, however, have a consistency into which the disputed letters cannot be comfortably fitted. In a sense the disputed letters falsely attributed to Paul are a confirmation that a single author wrote the undisputed letters. First Thessalonians may be an exception but it too can be fitted with the rest of the undisputed letters as Paul's earliest letter before he came up with his cross theology.
Para 2: I do not think certain passages in the Septuagint foreshadow the birth and crucifixion of Jesus.
Para 3: I do not think of Hebrew Bible as foreshadowing Jesus. I do think, however, that the Hebrew Bible can be read as pointing to Jesus, but such readings are in the mind of the reader not the author. See Robert Miller, Helping Jesus Fulfill Prophecy.
I thought Darrell Doughty in "1Thessalonians as Deutero-Pauline" (Forum, Fall, 2002) made a convincing case for 1 Thess. being non-Pauline.
Dennis Dean Carpenter
Thank you so much for answering my questions, Charlie... I do have one more question, but please don't answer it till after the holidays are over because I've bugged you enough. I just wonder why you hold the view that the Hebrew Bible can be read as pointing to Jesus. You clarified that to mean such readings are in the mind of the reader, however what are those readings based upon in your opinion? In other words, are they based upon cultural and doctrinal conditioning? Are people conditioned to see certain references to Jesus based on what they've been taught to see? I think that's what you are saying. Anyway, thank you again and I appreciate your knowledge and insights. Elizabeth
We should remember Jason BeDuhn's "The First New Testament: Marcion's Scriptural Canon" as derived from church fathers such as Tertullian and Epiphanius, as a source for exploring the authenticity question. He does not make a definitive statement regarding 1 Thessalonians, but he does note the theory of "rival claimants" and that 2 Thess suggests a competition of "letters" at 2:2, 2:15, and 3:17. He also mentions the theories of one public/one private letter, and one letter for Jews/one for Gentiles theories, and the problematic possible interpolation at 1 Thess 2:13-16 (p. 223-24, 250-52, 305-308).
Good Yule tide Morning: Dennis, Elizabeth, and Gene!
Dennis, I was present when Doughty presented his views on 1st Thessalonians, and later read the article. My own position that the letter was written by a not-yet-ready-for primetime Apostle (Paul). You can find my observations on Wry Thoughts Friday November 13, 2015 entitled "Paul's Cross Gospel and First Thessalonians." I agree with Doughty's observations but not with his conclusion that First Thessalonians is not a Pauline letter. It is well situated by its position as the first of Paul's letters, before he developed his Cross Gospel theology.
Hi Elizabeth, People who read Hebrew Bible as a foreshadowing of Jesus are reading the writings of the ancient Israelites non-historically from the perspective of their theological belief that the Bible predicts the future and that it is Christ centered. You can look up online prophecies about Jesus from the Old Testament and find lists of "prophecies." They even include "prophecies" that the early Christians did not consider prophecies. Somewhere in the historical section of this blog I have written on the subject. I will try to find it for you.
Hi Gene, 1st Thess 2:13-16 I take as evidence of a Paul who has not yet matured in his thinking and as such it is not an interpolation,
Merry Christmas and seasons greetings.
For a specific example of OT prophetic statements as so regarded by NT writers, See Wry Thoughts blog Friday February 14, 2014: "Prophecy Fulfilled or simply Creative Reading?"
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