Thursday, October 29, 2009

An Orthodox View of the Bible

Over the last several years, I have frequently found myself on the defensive, apologizing for or attempting to explain my view of the Bible, Inspiration, Inerrancy, etc.


[My views are expressed in the following posts: My original post on Progressive Revelation; a later post responding to Richard Dawkins’ caricature of God; and a recent post detailing my view of Inspiration.]


Whether on evangelical web blogs, or within my own local circle of friends and comrades in the faith, my take on the Bible is seen by many as liberal, as “compromised”, and certainly as inferior to the fundamentalist stance of inerrancy. My friends who read the Bible as if it were the very inspired words of God see themselves as standing on the solid high ground of Fundamentalism, and see me as skidding down the slippery slope of that dreaded disease of Liberalism.


My detractors consider their beliefs to be orthodox, and mine to be aberrant. They are correct, of course, if by orthodox, they mean “traditionally accepted”. But orthodox (ortho = right, doxa = opinion) simply means “the correct view.” To claim that only a verbally inspired–inerrant–infallible–literalist view of Scripture is orthodox involves a good deal of presupposition. That is, it must be correct before it can be truly orthodox.


What if the correct view of Scripture is that it is not the inerrant, verbally inspired “Word of God”. What if the orthodox, correct view, is that it is an accurate journal of an historic people of faith, written by human beings, subject to their errors and misconceptions, but recording for our benefit their quest to know the Living God? If that is the case, then we should expect to find within its pages a rich heritage of growing, developing understandings about God; but we should also expect to find mistakes, discrepancies, contradictions, and a variety of other inaccuracies. And this is exactly what we do find!


Perhaps it is time for those of us with a less rigid view of the Bible to boldly declare our view to be orthodox! If my view is, in fact, more orthodox (as I believe it is!) then the less orthodox view of Inerrancy is both dangerous and misleading. This, I believe, is the case.


Inerrancy leads to distortions of the character of God. Sometimes, horrendous distortions. A few examples should suffice: In an inerrant Bible, God becomes one who endorses the practice of selling one’s daughters as sex-slaves (Exodus 21:7-11). The God of the Inerrantist commands that children who sass or stubbornly disobey their parents are to be killed for their transgressions (Leviticus 20:9, Deuteronomy 21:18-21). If God were speaking through Moses in the pages of Numbers 31:9-18, then God followed the pattern of many military conquerors, rewarding soldiers with virgins for their sexual indulgence (or please, Inerrantist, explain what else is going on in these verses!). The God of the Inerrantist was, on occasion, confused about biology, as when he identified rabbits as ruminants in Deuteronomy 14:7. Furthermore, an Inerrantist must view God as sometimes raging out-of-control, one who had to be talked out of venting his rage upon the Israelite nation by the cooler-headed Moses (Exodus 32:7-14). This list could be expanded. We haven’t even ventured beyond the first five books! But my point should be clear by now. Inerrancy is dangerous to a healthy view of God and his character. It leads to theological confusion and distortion.


On the other hand, if we understand these stories to be of human origin, expressing the views of Moses and his contemporaries, we understand these misconceptions to reflect an understanding of God in its infancy; we can excuse Moses as a human being who was in the process of getting to know his Creator, and who was inspired to record what he was learning, complete with theological misconceptions and factual errors. Of course, this requires that we actually think about what we read. And this, according to some, is dangerous because we become arbiters of what is true, and what is not, in the Bible.


But even the most ardent defenders of Inerrancy, such as John Piper, readily admit that errors and misconceptions abound in the Bible. Piper acknowledges “hundreds and hundreds” of apparent “disparities”. This admission is addressed to fellow preachers; one wonders how often Inerrantist preachers say such things from the pulpit; or if they secretly hope that few of the folks in the pews discover blatant contradictions such as the two descriptions of the death of Judas in Matthew and Acts. When the mantra is repeated over and over that the Bible is flawless, the perfect inerrant revealed Word of God, what happens when a young believer discovers these disparities. Sadly, the dissonance can unsettle the faith of young believers. James McGrath recently commented on the blog, Exploring our Matrix:

My strongest reason for opposing these misleading claims about Biblical literalism and inerrancy is that they are a fast track to atheism. Many preachers say one must choose: "Either the Bible is the perfect, inerrant word of God, or it is a load of garbage and should be thrown out". This sets up anyone who decides to study the Bible seriously and has been told this to either pretend the problems aren't there, and thus compromise on honesty, or to do what they were told and throw out the Bible. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So Inerrancy is not only dangerous because it leads to distorted views of God, it can potentially lead to apostasy among believers who seriously study the Bible.


Thus is was that James Orr warned that the teaching of Inerrancy would be suicidal for Christianity. Orr was a leader of the budding Fundamentalist movement in the early years of the 20th Century. He took exception to Charles Hodge, B.B. Warfield, and others who were contending that Fundamentalism must include an unwavering belief in inerrancy:

It is urged...that unless we can demonstrate what is called the inerrancy of the biblical record down even to its minutest details, the whole edifice of belief in revealed religion falls to the ground. This, on the face of it, is the most suicidal position for any defender of revelation to take up.

Suicidal, in Orr’s opinion, because he viewed inerrancy as impossible to defend. And thus, the Inerrantist inevitably paints himself into a corner.


A correct view of the Scriptures – that it is something less than literal, verbally inspired and inerrant – does not mean that we must hopelessly abandon the Bible. I have appreciated the following statement on the Bible contained in an early version of the Mars Hill Narrative Theology:

We believe the Bible to be the voices of many who have come before us, inspired by God to pass along their poems, stories, accounts, and letters of response and relationship with each other and the living God. These words have been used to describe God and his character for thousands of years, and we call this theology. Theology is one of the best ways we can come to know and love God; it is also how we understand who God calls us to be and what he calls us to do. Theology comes from the Greek words "theos" and "logos." Theos means God, and logos means word. Words about God.


We believe God inspired the authors of Scripture by his Spirit to speak to all generations of believers, including us today. God calls us to immerse ourselves in this authoritative narrative communally and individually to faithfully interpret and live out that story today as we are led by the Spirit of God.

While I might use slightly different verbiage, I can endorse this statement which carefully avoids fundamentalist buzzwords such as Verbal, Literal, Inerrancy, and Infallibility.


Questions for my readers:


1) What constitutes an “orthodox” view of Scripture?

2) What is your opinion of the Mars Hill statement on the Bible?

3) Should non-inerrantist evangelicals, like me, point out the errors in the Bible? or is it too unsettling for some believers?



36 comments:

Pstyle said...

Great post cliff. My opinion is much similar to yours. I am from a fairly 'fundie' type background. I found that most folks would pronounce their belief in the bible, without actually reading most of it. . .

Rich G. said...

Cliff:

Hmmm... Lots to chew on.

I guess I would fall into a sorta "non-literal inerrant" position, that allows for figurative truth where literal accuracy is impossible. I think even the more troubling passages still accurately reveal some subtle truth about God's nature, even when the superficial reading seems to do just the the opposite.

Rich G.

Cliff Martin said...

Welcome Pstyle, and thank you for you comment.

Rich,
I don't meant to be flippant, and I respect you as a free-thinking and intelligent brother! But I have to ask: What can it possibly mean to maintain a belief in the inerrancy of a book that is riddled with errors? And not just errors that can be understood in other than literal terms. But factual errors. Clear contradictions. In light of the many such errors, can the word inerrancy have any meaning at all?

Michael Thompson said...

Hi Cliff, cool blog! do you mind if i put a like on my blog to this one? my blog is not a religious blog, but i like to share some links that show some of my spiritual interests.
I have lots of friends that believe the bible is innerant, I tried to believe that way too, but i could never really buy it. The problem is how do I know what to believe in it, if anything? i am trying to be a christian, it makes it easier in some ways, and harder in others.
One problem with certain bible inerantists, is they may be worshiping the bible more than God!

MT

Michael Thompson said...

ooops, put a LINK on my blog, not put a like, oh how I wish we could edit blog comments haha

Jeff said...

Cliff,

Your characterization of Piper's quote in Brother's We Are Not Professionals is horrid. Piper does not admit that "errors" abound in the biblical text. Rather, he admits to hundreds of "apparent" contradictions in the text, which he argues are not genuine contradictions at all! Rather, they are texts that need deeper study.

In context, Piper is saying that pastors should take the time to wrestle with difficult passages of scripture until they find resolve.

Cliff, I'm sure you understand how frustrating it is when people misrepresent your view by misquoting you or failing to give necessary context. So, in turn, please charitably make the effort to properly represent the views others.

Thank you for taking this into consideration.

Cliff Martin said...

Jeff,

Actually, Jeff, I do not believe I misrepresented Piper at all. If I remember right, he goes on to say that many of the hundreds of disparities we will likely never find a solution to on this side of eternity. In other words, he can't make sense of them, and he doubts anyone will be able to. I agree! He says we should just go on in faith that some day in eternity it will all make sense. I say if its a contradiction or factual error, it is what it is. Better to deal with the text we have in integrity than to ship the problems ahead into the far distant future ... all so that we can hang onto a doctrine about the Bible that goes beyond anything the Bible claims for itself. Strange.

I have wrestled with the disparities. Intellectual honesty does not permit me to deny them, or pretend that some day they will resolve.

Cliff Martin said...

Jeff,

Here is the point I often make, and I would really like an answer. I know you are a Piper fan ... I like him, too. I am not trying to misuse his statement. But help me sort this out.

Piper holds a Bible he claims is (or once upon a time was) error free, and yet he finds in it hundreds of discrepancies. So how does he discern truth? He must surely do as I do and you do ... pray for Holy Spirit illumination as he reads.

Karl Barth holds a Bible he claims merely "contains" the Word of God. So how does he discern truth? He must surely do as I do and you do ... pray for Holy Spirit illumination as he reads.

Jeff, what is the practical difference?

Michael Thompson said...

Hi Cliff
You make some good points, and I think I agree.
My question, is if the bible is wrong in some areas, what can stop us from picking and choosing what we want to believe?
I know praying for the spirit to help us is part of it, but lots of people do that and get different meanings? help!

Cliff Martin said...

Michael,

Welcome to OutsideTheBox. You certainly have my permission to post a link at any or all of you websites (which I visited today ... your fish art is delightful, and I think GEM is very cool!)

To your questions ...

The very fact that so many people can read the Bible, prayerfully and sincerely, and come away with completely different ideas ought to tell us something. Christianity simply cannot be reduced to ink and paper. We are aided in our approach to God by those who have gone before us and who recorded their expereinces, but ultimately out faith is not about dogmas and creeds derived from a book. It is about relating to God daily through prayer, and obedience to what is plainly taught in the Scripture and confirmed in our own Spirit-guided conscience.

Whether one believes in a literal world-wide flood or not has little impact on one's day-to-day obedience. My particular take on the process of inscripturation does not change the clear mandates to love and serve God, and love and serve my neighbor. The moral teachings of Jesus are clear. They are central to our Faith. And they don't change whether one accepts or denies evolution.

But I personally have found a great deal of comfort in the process of coming to a "big picture" of theology and history and science in which so many of the questions I've asked all my life are answered. This process is guided both by the Bible, and by the exploration of the work of the Creator (which is science!).

From what I have seen of your life through your blogs, it looks to me like you are living out a practical and wonderful expression of Jesus! Keep on! and continue to base your faith and your life in him, and not in a book about him.

If you are interested (as I am) in a theology that fits our experience, and fits our growing scientific understandings, as well as fits the Bible, there are numerous articles buried in this website which might get you to thinking outside the box.

Isaac Gouy said...

> Should non-inerrantist evangelicals, like me, point out the errors in the Bible? or is it too unsettling for some believers?

iirc a comment by Bart Ehrman in Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don't Know About Them) ...

After he gave a series of lectures in church about contradictions in the New Testament churchgoers wanted to know why no one had ever told them about this before.

Rich G. said...

Cliff:

Yeah, it does sound a bit self-contradictory. I see a God who doesn't seem all that bothered that we human beings can't get all the details right. While I no longer subscribe to a Baptist-style doctrine of inerrancy (that requires a literal accuracy in all the minutiae - but allows the weasel-words "original authors") I do believe the Word is without error in the important points. Whether Samson actually killed 1,000 philistines in a single day with a bone in his hand is, to me, inconsequential. That Samson was a man singularly gifted while being very much a fallible man is a fact that I can trust.

Well, I guess I am redefining "inerrant". But I think I am in good company in doing so.

Rich G.

Nancy said...

Nice post. There are many things to say about this topic, but I'll stick to two.
First, inerrancy as defined by the historical movement of Fundamentalism is a modern perspective. The Church has historically recognized a variety of ways of reading and interpreting Scripture. An orthodox reading of the Bible is broader than many people recognize.This is not to say "anything goes" but the tradtion is surprisingly diverse.

Secondly, there is a middle ground between a strict inerrant reading and the view that the Bible is humanities story of how they experienced God. One can hold the view that Scripture is a collaborative document. Inspired by the Holy Spirit and written by human beings in a particular historical location and time. One of the major themes of the Bible is the relational or collaborative nature of God. As Barth said, God does not will to be God without us.So the Bible can be seen as God's word as written by limited humans.

Michael Thompson said...

Hi Cliff!
Thanks for the welcome!
I am excited to meet all the believers that have different points of view, thanks for sharing yours!
I started out just looking for some answers on science and the faith, and ended up meeting lots of good thinkers!
Thanks for the compliments.
I have been with GEM for around 15 years, and I have been looking for ways to share christs love in many ways, and trying to learn what the gospel is hopefuly I can pass it on!
I look forward to spending time here learning what God has shown you!

MT

Jeff said...

Cliff,

You said that Piper readily admits that there are errors in the bible, did you not? Give me a direct quote. I have read the passages in the book you are referring to, and do not see him doing this anywhere!

He does refer to "apparent disparities," and goes on to say that there are "profound and wonderful resolutions to all [these] problems - whether we see them in this life or not."

This is much different than saying, "there are factual errors that no one will ever make sense of."

Rather, the bible has proven itself a trustworthy guide in so many ways, why would we presume when faced with an "apparent disparity" that it is wrong? Couldn't a reasoned faith, which reinforces our belief in the fallibility of our mental capabilities and the infallibility of scripture, presume that it is ourselves, not the scriptures, that are unable to see? We may very well make sense of these apparent disparities in this life, and we should continue to wrestle. Yet, in the meantime, we trust the reliability of the text... not blindly, but because we have good reason to.

At least I have found very good reason to trust them, though maybe you have not. If you have indeed not found good reason to trust the reliability of the Scriptures in this way, then it would be foolish for you to blindly believe that they are wholly trustworthy. Again, my experience has been otherwise.

Now I will concede to you this. The Scriptures are accurate in what they seek to affirm. Meaning, the first two chapters of Genesis may not be seeking to affirm seven literal days of creation. If this is so, and the world was created in a different fashion, the bible would not be inaccurate in describing creation as a seven day process... precisely because it is seeking to impress an entirely different point upon the mind of its reader, having nothing to do with the time frame of creation.

However, you are going miles beyond this in your criticism of the biblical text... to a place that leaves you with very little, if any, rock to stand on. I am not saying you should grasp on to the trustworthiness of scripture simply because you need a consistent absolute. Rather, I am hoping and praying that at the end of all your tests and theories, you will find the Scriptures a gloriously reasonable source of truth in all respects... so much so, that when faced with a disparity, your former experience with the solidness of this rock will be a means of faith amidst the present cloudiness.

Cliff Martin said...

Jeff,

Thank you for coming back. I hope you know that I both respect you, and appreciate your thought processes. (And I like you, and miss our conversations!) You think critically, and you strive for intellectual honesty. But as I do the same, our conclusions are different in many respects.

You are correct, Piper did not use the word “errors”. He said “disparities”. I presume some of these disparities are contradictions (which is the word you used in your first comment). “Apparent contradictions.” Some of these contradictions seem to me to be blatant and undeniable, not just “apparent.” But either way, if we have an irresolvable contradiction, we have an error. We just don’t know which text is accurate, and which is inaccurate, or in error. Jeff, though it may seem like an exaggeration or mis-characterization from your point of view, please believe me that I was not trying to overstate Piper’s position. My point was simply this: John Piper (whose honesty and transparency I admire) holds in his hands a Bible which contains not just a few, but “hundreds and hundreds of apparent disparities”. (He is forced to say they are apparent because of his a priori conclusion that there can in fact be no disparities. A piece of mental gymnastics, I think.) And so he must read the Bible as I do. The paragraph about Piper follows my statement that non-inerrantists are disparaged by some because they presume to be arbiters of truth in the Bible. My point is that Piper (and you, too) must make judgments of Scripture, both in terms of everyday hermeneutics, and in terms of the fact that we never know when we are up against a copyist's error, insertion, or some other “disparity”. We have to weigh in things like conflicting manuscript testimony. That was my point in quoting Piper. Please remove, if you will, what you consider to be my overreaching language, and respond my point.

In this regard, why do you presume I have not found the Bible to be a “trustworthy guide in so many ways.” I have. You know I have. I read it. I study it. I love it. I live my life out of its precepts. (Well, I try!) And, Jeff, I trust it. But I do not read it as a flawless error-free text. Nor do I find that to be prerequisite to benefiting from the rich storehouse of wisdom and life contained in its pages.

Do you believe God favors the killing of disobedient children? now? ever? Does he change? Seriously, did the God you and I have come to know and love give instructions on how to sell one's daughters into slavery for (presumably) sex?

You see, it is not the “disparities” that trouble me most. It is the necessary theological conclusions of adhering to a position of rigid inerrancy.

Cliff Martin said...

Rich,
Keep redefining inerrancy! I think we will end up on the same page.

Nancy,
Welcome to OutsideTheBox. Good observation re. the relative newness of strict inerrancy as a doctrine in the church. Not only is that true historically, but even today in the Roman and Orthodox traditions (even the conservative branches) considerably more leeway is given to the the understanding of the process of inscripturation, and seemingly this leeway is granted without reducing the honor given to the Bible, or diluting its authority (although Scripture authority is offset by church authority). Nevertheless, these very old traditions have survived for millennia sans “inerrancy” as such.

Michael,
Good reading! If you have a comment on any earlier post, I will be alerted to it and respond.

Cliff Martin said...

Isaac,
Thank you for the link.

Mike Beidler said...

Cliff,

It isn't often that a blog post brings me to tears. This particular post is a beautiful articulation of where we both are in relation to what we traditionally call the "Word of God."

I am in debt to people like yourself, Stephen Douglas, Dan Werner, et al. who have leaned so much on their relationship with Jesus Christ that the traditions that once shackled us to paradigms that defy God-given reason can be comfortably set alongside (not cast aside) our faith as companions rather than slave-drivers.

Mike Beidler said...

@Jeff:

However, you are going miles beyond this in your criticism of the biblical text... to a place that leaves you with very little, if any, rock to stand on.

Au contraire, my friend. Please do not confuse the ministry of the Living Word, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit that proceeds from both with the written word that can easily be demonstrated as errant.

Jeff said...

Cliff,

I didn't assume that your "misquote" was intentional. Rather, I just thought it was not careful, and therefore didn't properly represent Piper's view. Moving on...

I know from your perspective, you think your hermeneutic still upholds the trustworthiness of scripture. I do not. Rather, your system forces you to stand in judgment of the text, because it is inaccurate. According to you Moses' view of God was wrong, and when He writes "God said", he was not accurately portraying history. Though Moses wrote "God said", God did not say, and therefore Moses is deceiving his readers.

Am I right that you think, from our more enlightened perspective, that we can judge the text, determining what parts accurately describe reality and what parts do not? I know that you will probably defend your hermeneutic by saying that the whole bible is "true" in that it accurately relates the contemporary understanding of God, at the time of writing. But, this is playing with words. If I firmly believe a lie, and communicate it, I am a false-teacher. Therefore, in this system, the bible would be full of false teaching.

Admittedly your questions are difficult ones to answer, but not impossible. There are answers, ones that you probably have considered but are not satisfied with.

The scriptures in Numbers allow the Hebrew warriors to keep alive the virgin women, "for themselves". Why should we assume that this command in some way trumps the giving of the law at Sinai, within the same grouping of Scripture? Is it that hard to believe that what is being commanded is to assimilate these women into Israel by proper marriage? I don't think it is. You have to make many more assumptions than I do to believe that God is "rewarding soldiers with virgins for their sexual indulgence", as you suggest.

In Exodus 21, the Bible is commanding the proper treatment of slaves. We see commands such as "deal with her as a daughter", and "let her be redeemed", and "shall not diminish her food, clothing, or her marital rights". In many societies, women of families with no money, who were indebted to another, were treated far worse. They would be abused and discarded. This passage is gaurding against this.

I could go on to address every passage, but I still haven't addressed your overarching concern.

God certainly would not command things like this of us today, why did he command it in the OT, for Israel? My answer, to you, I'm sure will be over-simplistic. God had singled out Israel among the heathen God-hating nations of the world, to bring forth the Messiah. Many of His command towards them had much to do with redemptive history, and not world-wide administration of His overarching desires for all of humanity. His desires have not changed.

It is hard to read the bible at all (even the NT) without recognizing that God "wills" things on multiple different levels.

I wish I could spend more time writing, but I would be forfeiting other obligations to do so. I love you Cliff, and I appreciate you taking the time to interact with me on these matters.

Rich G. said...

Cliff:

I think your view of the reliability of scripture is more orthodox, in a historic sense than the recently adopted literal inerrancy as stated in many evangelical doctrinal statements. I subscribe more to a position that the scriptures are reliable. As stated in 2 Timothy, all scriptures are "profitable" for "doctrine", "reproof", "correction" and "instruction in righteousness". As I look at how the OT scriptures are used by the NT writers, they don't seem to bee all that concerned with getting the quotations precisely accurate. If Matthew, Peter, Paul, John (and even Jesus himself) don't get their quotations "just right", why should I hold them to a different (looser) standard than I apply to myself? Then there is Jude - quoting from the pseudografic Book of Enoch - what am I to make of THAT, if I hold to an inviolable inerrancy? So I fall back to a personal position (that I think is orthodox from a historical perspective) that the scriptures are profitable and reliable, in spite of the human mistakes that are there.

Rich G.

Mike Beidler said...

@Rich G.

Well said, Rich! When asked, I tell people that I affirm "biblical adequacy" instead of "biblical inerrancy."

Cliff Martin said...

Jeff,
You make a better case for inerrancy than most Inerrantists I encounter, and I appreciate your comments. But our conclusions, honestly arrived at, remain quite different. I'd love to interact with you about these questions face to face. Maybe some day....

Rich and Mike,
Yes! Words like "reliable" and "adequate" may never satisfy someone who has grown accustomed to words like "flawless", "divine" and "perfect". But they do the job for me! They preserve my respect and love for the written word, while allowing me to be intellectually honest with what seems inescapably clear.

VanceH- said...

Hi Cliff,
Thanks for a great post. I particularly liked your alternate possibility of orthodoxy: "is that it is an accurate journal of an historic people of faith, written by human beings, subject to their errors and misconceptions, but recording for our benefit their quest to know the Living God?"

I have been meditating on the Word, in a similar vein, and thinking about the continuum of what people believe--all the way from the King James version being the inerrant word of God, to the Bible being a collection of religious writings that have been allowed to survived by those in power.

One dynamic that I don't think you captured in your statement was willful injection of a point of view. For example, I find it hard to believe that Paul wrote: "Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control." 1 Tim2:15

This feels like it might go beyond error into evil. Is it a Genesis 50:20 sort of situation: "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people [1] should be kept alive, as they are today." ?

-- Vance

Rich G. said...

Isaac:

iirc a comment by Bart Ehrman in Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don't Know About Them) ...

After he gave a series of lectures in church about contradictions in the New Testament churchgoers wanted to know why no one had ever told them about this before.


Following the lead of this link, I did a bit of online reading about Bart D. Ehrman. It seems he followed a path from fundamentalist to skeptic to agnostic all because he started to see the errors, and couldn't reconcile honest reading with a hyper-literalist view of the scriptures. I think that instead of loosening his understanding of the scriptures to allow for human frailty, he threw it out nearly wholesale. I'm not so sure he wants to strengthen peoples' faith as much as it seems he wants to undermine it.

Isaac Gouy said...

Rich G. > all because he started to see the errors

No.

In "Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible" Ehrman repeatedly explains, as apparently he's explained before, that he remained a Christian for decades after he'd accepted the historical-critical approach to reading the Bible.

Ehrman's crisis of faith was "The Problem of Evil".


Rich G. > I'm not so sure he wants to strengthen peoples' faith as much as it seems he wants to undermine it

Perhaps you shouldn't come to sweeping judgments about the motivations of others.

At the very least you might actually read (libraries are wonderful) what he has to say for himself first.

Steve Douglas said...

Hi Jeff!

Rather, your system forces you to stand in judgment of the text, because it is inaccurate.

Our system merely acknowledges that there is no uninterpreted text of Scripture, that we all stand in judgment of it, and that we must not overlay our interpretation with systems unnatural and foreign to the works of literature God ordained for our use. The category of inerrancy is altogether unscriptural, however desirable or "logical" a consequence it might seem.

Though Moses wrote "God said", God did not say, and therefore Moses is deceiving his readers.
...
I know that you will probably defend your hermeneutic by saying that the whole bible is "true" in that it accurately relates the contemporary understanding of God, at the time of writing. But, this is playing with words. If I firmly believe a lie, and communicate it, I am a false-teacher. Therefore, in this system, the bible would be full of false teaching.

Laying aside the problematic issue of the authorship of the Torah, what we have there is someone reporting what they understood of what God said. It's only "deceiving" (as you said) if it was an intentional misleading. Your accusation of "false teaching" is no less rampant in today's church, even with John Piper, since he certainly doesn't know everything and no doubt teaches some things that he's actually wrong about. I think your objection is based upon mistakenly imputing upon us your own lingering belief that God directly authored or managed the content of Scripture. As you anticipated, my view is that the biblical record is a history of progressive revelation, accurately chronicling the authors' evolving understanding of God.

Am I right that you think, from our more enlightened perspective, that we can judge the text, determining what parts accurately describe reality and what parts do not?

Jeff, please don't call us kettles black. ;-) Virtually everyone, the Reformed being a rule rather than an exception, thinks that he/she is in a better position to impose his/her beliefs upon the text, overruling what it says either with a tight theological system that ignores contradictions or, as we are doing, by exonerating it as contextually bound literature. Obviously, I happen to think that our way is more intellectually honest and faithful to the text.

Using our human observation and understanding to help us make sense of the text is necessarily done by all interpreters. Are the bowels the center of emotions? No; but how would we know whether this was the science of the day, or phenomenological, or actually some divine revelation that defied (probably atheistic) modern scientists peddling their anti-biblical biology? It's no good to pretend that we have access to some unfiltered reading of the Bible. We all use our understanding and observation, fallible as they are, to interpret Scripture -- why not at least use the best available observation and rigorously obtained understanding to do so?

Steve Douglas said...

In many societies, women of families with no money, who were indebted to another, were treated far worse. They would be abused and discarded. This passage is gaurding against this.

Does this really convince you? Sure, it's a nice thought that God at least doesn't want people mistreating their slaves. But it doesn't negate the fact that they kept slaves. Would you honestly argue that this would be a valid social order today? Tell me if we have any indication that Jesus would enforce this commandment. This is much like Paul's shortcoming of not instructing believers to free their slaves; no doubt doing otherwise would have resulted in fewer converts among the rich, but wouldn't more of the non-slave-owners have understood the liberation inherent in the Gospel if the slaves of believers were commanded to be freed?

Many of His command towards them had much to do with redemptive history, and not world-wide administration of His overarching desires for all of humanity. His desires have not changed.

Now you're talking sense: what you're saying is that God's early interaction with mankind did not address every one of their misconceptions, and in fact allowed problems to remain a part of their system unchecked. That's just what I think Cliff's saying. But in our view at least, God is exonerated from actively revealing these morally repugnant ideas to His people.

Rich G. said...

I think we are neglecting something in this discussion.

Did God inspire the scriptures errors and all? Does the Word reflect what He wanted recorded for the following generations?

I don't think any of us who take the Bible seriously view it as just a collection of writings about religious experiences - anyone can do that. There seems to be something mystical in THESE writings, errors, inconsistencies and all.

Rich G.

Cliff Martin said...

Rich,

The notion that God intended us to regard even errors and contradictions as verbatim divine revelation taxes credulity for me. It is a stretch, serving merely to preserve an extra-biblical doctrine which was superimposed upon the Scripture in the first place.

For me, the uniqueness of the Christian Bible is sufficiently explained by my understanding that this set of "writings about religious experiences" records the interactions of mankind with the one and only God in a blossoming, maturing relationship. Other religious writings may or may not do that to some degree. But the Bible leads up to, and looks back upon the One whom I consider to be the Word of God, the true and perfectly reliable revelation of God, Jesus Christ. It is the centrality of Jesus that makes our Bible utterly unique, not the method of inscripturation.

Cliff Martin said...

Steve,

Thank you for your comments. I hope my friend Jeff has not given up on us! (though he and I have entered into a longer email discussion on the side.)

I have to confess, I had to look up the idiom about calling kettles black. Very appropriate ... I must remember it!

Rich G. said...

Cliff:

I didn't intend to imply any form of "verbatim divine revelation". Only that I see some form of divine intent in these particular writings. I cannot look at the scriptures as merely records [of] the interactions of mankind with the one and only God.

As with creation itself, it looks like He is able and willing to allow some degree of imperfection to exist within not only His created order, but within His inspired scriptures, too.

Isaac Gouy said...

The object of all these statements on our part, is to show that it was the design of the Holy Spirit, who deigned to bestow upon us the sacred Scriptures, to show that we were not to be edified by the letter alone, or by everything in it - a thing which we see to be frequently impossible and inconsistent; for in that way not only absurdities, but impossibilities, would be the result; but that we are to understand that certain occurrences were interwoven in the "visible" history which, when considered and understood in the inner meaning, give forth a law which is advantageous to men and worthy of God.

The Writings of Origen

Isaac Gouy said...

I wonder if there's something to be learned from the thousand years that Christianity followed the biblical "Do penance!" until Erasmus translated "Repent!"

(Let alone the thousand years of rabbis repeatedly exhorting - young woman not virgin!)

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more. I actually had an "orthodox", or so he says, christian tell me that my God is a made-up God (essentially a false idol) because I don't believe that the bible is literally the Word of God. I wonder what these types of Christians think will happen to all the other people in the world that practice other religions...will they all really just go to hell? If so, my question is "would an all loving and wonderful God really send good, honest people to hell for not believing in Christ?" It just doesn't seem like the God I know.