Questions About the Bible – Part 3
|By: Dr. Norman Geisler; ©1999|
|This article completes the discussion of “Can the Bible be Wrong?” And then looks at the issue of canonicity. Who “decided” what books were inspired, and what guidelines were used to determine which books should or should not be included in the Bible as we know it?|
Questions About the Bible-Part Three
(excerpted from When Skeptics Ask, by Dr. Norman Geisler)
How Was the Bible Written—Part 2
Can The Bible Be Wrong? (Continued from last week)
The neo-evangelicals respond by saying that Jesus was only accommodating the popular views of the day so that they would understand His main point without being distracted by the new knowledge that God used evolution and that some of the miracles never occurred. There are two serious problems with this idea. First, it is not like Jesus to accommodate popular opinion. He never hesitated to confront false beliefs head-on (Matt. 5:21-22, 27-28, 31-32; 15:1-9; 22:29; 23:1ff; John 2:13ff; 3:10). That is why He was always arguing with the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Second, and more important, this would amount to moral deception on Jesus’ part. As God, He knew that what He was telling them was not true, but He told them anyway.
Philosophically, the infallibility position is unsatisfying. To say that truth is in the purpose or intention does not fit with what most people call truth. We expect truth to correspond to the reality that it talks about. If truth was only a matter of intention, then we could never know whether a statement was true or false because we can’t know the intent in the mind of the one who spoke it. The same goes for meaning. If we can’t tell what a person means by what he says, how can we know what his intended meaning was? Even if he tells us his intention to clarify it, he is still using language, and we can’t be sure that he has expressed his true intention about his intention. Meaning and truth both become impossible. Also, it is self-defeating to say that language cannot express anything about God, because it just did—it expressed the idea that nothing could be expressed. Certainly there are limits to what our language can express about the infinite, but that doesn’t mean we have to give up altogether. There are some things we can say in human language about God. If there weren’t, how could the neo-evangelicals say that the Bible teaches truth about spiritual matters?
The view of most evangelicals is that the Bible teaches truth about both spiritual and scientific/historical matters. The passages which were used in reference to inspiration seem to suggest that this is what the Bible claims for itself and the way Jesus understood it. Examination of the evidence suggests that the Bible is extremely reliable in historical and scientific matters, and its critics have been proven wrong over and over again. More fundamentally, if the Bible is the Word of God and God can only speak truth, then there is no way to avoid the conclusion that the Bible contains no errors. Inspiration guarantees inerrancy. Just look at the way what the Bible says and what God says are equated. Jesus said that God said, “For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother,” but a close examination of Genesis 2:24 shows these were Moses’ words. Likewise, Paul attributes a direct quote from God to “Scripture.” Where the Bible speaks, God speaks and God cannot lie.
This does not mean that the way we understand the Bible is perfectly true; it means that the Bible is true when understood rightly. Nor does it mean that everything in the Scriptures must be understood literally. There are figures of speech on almost every page, but there is a big difference between telling truth in a metaphor and telling tales with a myth. Further, inerrancy does not mean that everything that is recorded in the Bible is true, but that what is affirmed as true is true. Cain said, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” implying that he was not. The Bible records that he said it, but it does not endorse his attitude. After all, this came from a man who just killed his brother! The teaching of the passage is that we are responsible for the well-being of others.
Finally, there is an analogy between the written Word of God and the Living Word. While neo-evangelicals say that error is due to the introduction of human thought and human language, they must somehow account for the fact that Jesus Christ was both fully human and fully divine, yet without sin. In both cases the human and divine are wedded, yet the human aspects have no imperfections. This suggests that sin and error are not necessary consequences of humanity; they are only accidental. God can produce both a Person and a Book that are without error.
How was the Bible Put Together?
How do we know that the sixty-six books of the Bible are the only writings that should be included in Scripture? What about the Apocrypha, or the Gnostic gospels? Why shouldn’t they be included? The answer lies in the idea of canonicity. Canon comes from Greek and Hebrew words that mean a measuring rod, and it signifies a standard that all scriptural books must meet. Several inadequate views of what that standard should be have been offered, such as age, agreement with the Torah if it was written in Hebrew, religious value, and Christian usage. But each of these makes a common mistake; they confuse God’s determination of what is Scripture with man’s recognition of those writings. The bottom line is that whatever God inspired is Scripture and what He did not inspire is not. When the Holy Spirit moved a man of God to write, that writing became, not only inspired, but inscripturated. God has already decided what should be included; our problem is knowing how to discover what writings God has inspired.
There are five questions that have been asked by the church in accepting and rejecting books as canonical. The first is the most basic:
- Was it written by a prophet of God? Deuteronomy 18:18 tells us that only a prophet of God will speak the Word of God. This is the way that God reveals Himself (Heb. 1:1). Second Peter 1:20-21 assures us that Scripture is only written by men of God.
- Was he confirmed by an act of God? Hebrews 2:3-4 gives us the idea that we should expect some miraculous confirmation of those who speak for God. Moses had his rod that turned into a serpent, Jesus had the Resurrection, and the apostles continued Jesus’ miracles, all to confirm that their message was from God. Many of the prophets had prophecies fulfilled shortly after they were made to confirm their authority.
- Does it tell the truth about God? “But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8). Agreement with all earlier revelation is essential. This dictum also rules out false prophecies made in the name of God (Deut. 18:22).
- Does it have the power of God? Any writing that does not exhibit the transforming power of God in the lives of its readers is not from God, “For the Word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword” (Heb. 4:12).
- Was it accepted by the people of God? Paul thanked the Thessalonians for receiving the apostles’ message as the Word of God (1 Thes. 2:13). It is the norm that God’s people, that is, the majority of them and not simply a faction, will initially receive God’s Word as such. Moses’ scrolls were placed immediately into the ark of the covenant (Deut. 31:24-26) and Joshua’s writings were added in the same fashion (Josh. 24:26), as were Samuel’s (1 Sam. 10:25). Jeremiah is known as the plagiarizing prophet because he quoted so many of the other prophets who had written only a few years before him, which shows that their writings had been readily accepted. Daniel is seen studying the Book of Jeremiah within fifty years after it was written (Dan. 9:2). The New Testament also shows similar acceptance in that Peter calls Paul’s writings Scripture (2 Peter 3:16) and Paul quotes Luke alongside a passage from the Law (1 Tim. 5:18). We also are aware that Paul’s letters were circulated among the churches (Col. 4:16; 1 Thes. 5:27). This may have been the beginning of the collection of books for the New Testament canon. Though some books were later disputed, their original acceptance speaks strongly in favor of their inclusion.
But what about the books that were left out? This question has the wrong perspective on the issue. No other books were ever accepted and there is no reason to believe that most of them were even in the running. For both the Old and New Testaments, there are certain books that were accepted by everyone, some books that were later disputed, and some that were rejected by all. There is no category of books initially accepted and later thrown out. There are, however, two groups of books that many are saying should have been included. These are the Apocrypha and the Gnostic gospels.
(We will look at these in the next article.)