Questions About the Bible – Part 2
|By: Dr. Norman Geisler; ©1999|
|This article explores the issue of inspiration, and asks the question, can the Bible be “right” in matters related to salvation, but be “wrong” in matters related to science, geography and history?” Do such errors really make any difference, as long as we only look to the Bible in matters of “faith and practice”?|
Questions About the Bible-Part Two
(excerpted from When Skeptics Ask)
How Was the Bible Written? – Part 1
The process by which the Bible was written is called inspiration. The term comes from 2 Timothy 3:16, which says, “All Scripture is inspired by God [literally, God-breathed] and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” God is the source of all that is said in the Bible. From Moses to John, a prophet is always a man who delivers God’s message to men. That message begins with a revelation from God. That revelation might be a voice from a burning bush (Ex. 3:2), a series of visions (Ezek. 1:1; 8:3; Rev. 4:1), an inner voice of the prophet’s communion with God (“The Word of the Lord came unto me”), or derived from some earlier prophecy (Dan. 9:1-2).
But to be Scripture, the message had to be written too. Second Peter 1:21 gives us a description of this process: “No prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” That word “moved” means, literally, “to be carried along,” like a ship is carried by the wind. God carried each writer along as he wrote so that the message was kept intact.
Inspiration does not mean simply that the writer felt enthusiastic, like Handel composing the Messiah. Nor does it mean that the writings are necessarily inspiring, like an uplifting poem. As a process, it refers to the writers and the writings being controlled by God. As a product, it refers to the writings only, as documents that are God’s message.
How does inspiration work? This remains largely a mystery, but we do know that it was done through prophets, as spokesmen for God. We also know that they were not mere secretaries. The secretary model suggests that men were merely taking divine dictation as they wrote the books of the Bible. This assures that God’s message comes through, but it does not explain the human elements of the Scriptures, such as style differences, personal experiences related, and different languages used. Neither were they merely witnesses to revelation. Here the human author is seen as an observer of the revelation of God who is making a record of the experience. While his words may not be inspired, the concepts he records are. However, this model tends to neglect the divine aspects of inspiration in favor of emphasizing the human contribution to it, including human error. Such a view does not take seriously what the Bible says about inspiration because it does not include God in the writing process, and it implies that not all Scripture comes from God. The only adequate view incorporates both divine and human factors; it is the prophet model. In this process, the human writer is seen as one who has received a revelation and actively participates in its writing, while God gives the revelation and oversees the writing. Hence, the message is wholly from God, but the humanity of the writer is included to enhance the message. Both the divine and human concur in the same words (1 Cor. 2:13).
The net result is that we have the Word of God written by men of God, inspired not only in its concepts, but in the very words used to express those concepts. The human writers are not mere secretaries, but active agents who express their own experiences, thoughts, and feelings in what they have written. It is not simply a record of revelation, but a revelation itself. It is God’s message in written form (Heb. 1:1; 2 Peter 1:21).
Can The Bible Be Wrong?
Just how trustworthy is the Bible? This has been one of the great issues of this century. Is the Bible inerrant (meaning no errors), or is it merely an infallible guide in matters of faith and practice (meaning that what it says about spiritual truths is true, but there may be errors in science, geography, and history)? While there are unbiblical views that reject the authority of the Word altogether or say that it becomes God’s Word as you experience it, the above stated views are the center of the current debate.
The neo-evangelical view of infallibility states that the purpose of Scripture is to lead men to salvation (2 Tim. 3:15), and that any other subject that it might touch on (like botany or cosmology) is unimportant to that purpose, so what it says about those things may not be correct. They stress that the authors did not intentionally deceive us with these false statements, because either they did not know better, or else they simply accommodated themselves to the popular views of the times so that they could get their main point across, which had to do with salvation. Jack Rogers, one of the major proponents of this view, wrote:
- [It] is no doubt possible to define the meaning of biblical inerrancy according to the Bible’s saving purpose and taking into account the human forms through which God condescended to reveal Himself…to confuse error in the sense of technical accuracy with the biblical notion of error as willful deception diverts us from the serious intent of Scripture. The purpose of the Bible is not to substitute human science. The purpose of the Bible is to warn against human sin and offer us God’s salvation in Christ. It infallibly achieves that purpose.
From this expression of this view, several things become evident. First, truth resides in the intention or purpose of the author, not in what he actually said. The apostles did not mean to mislead us in matters of science or history—that was not part of their intention—so it is all right if what they said was not true by normal standards. Meaning is found in purpose, not in what is affirmed. Jesus’ intended meaning was that a little faith accomplishes a great deal; so if He made a mistake by calling the mustard seed the smallest seed (when an orchid seed is really smaller), then it doesn’t matter—that wasn’t part of His purpose. Second, human language is not really adequate for communicating truths about God. It is limited and this-worldly, and cannot really convey the unlimited God, who is so different from us. So error is unavoidable as long as we are stuck with human language. If God is to reveal Himself to us as we read the Bible, then He must do it in our experience as we read the text. He can’t communicate in the words, but He can work through them to meet us in a personal way that goes beyond language. Finally, faith is opposed to reason. Reason cannot judge what is true about faith, and faith is not subject to reason or provable by it. The methods for determining truth about this world don’t work in the other world. Hence, science is right about scientific matters, and the Bible is right about spiritual matters.
Neo-evangelicals are right in pointing out that the Bible is not meant to be a science text. They also are correct in recognizing the limitation of human language. However, if their views were accepted, the results would be devastating.
Jesus’ words and actions seem to contradict many of their claims. He said, “If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how shall you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:12) Jesus expected His accuracy in factually testable matters to be proof that He was telling the truth about spiritual matters that cannot be tested. Again, Jesus said to the crowd, “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven’; or to say, ‘Arise, and take up your pallet and walk’? But in order that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,’ He said to the paralytic, ‘I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home’” (Mark 2:9-11). Jesus proved that what He said about faith and the unverifiable realm was true by giving a very verifiable and physical healing.
He made a point to say that what God says about this world demonstrates His truthfulness about the other world.
And what about Jesus’ resurrection? Was it mythical or historical? If it was mythical, does that mean that it may not have happened in the real world where it could be tested? If it was historical, does that mean that it has no higher, spiritual meaning? Such a distinction is impossible to make, given the kind of evidence that Jesus offered to prove His deity.
Also, Jesus had the annoying habit of affirming the very passages that higher criticism calls errors. He affirmed things like Creation (Luke 11:40), Adam and Eve (Matt. 19:4-5), Noah and the Flood (Matt. 24:37-39), Sodom and Gomorrah (Luke 10:12), and Jonah and the great fish (Matt. 12:39-41). He even went so far as to say that Moses wrote the Law (rather than Ezra or a collection of scribes; see Mark 7:10; John 7:19) and that Isaiah wrote all of Isaiah (critical scholars say the last half was written centuries later; see John 12:38-41 where both halves are quoted together and each is attributed to Isaiah). These passages show that Jesus linked the historical reality of the Old Testament with the truth of His own spiritual message.
(to be continued next week)
- Jack Rogers, “Church Doctrine and Biblical Inspiration” in Biblical Authority (Waco, Texas: Word, 1977), pp. 45-46.