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Donovan Neufeldt Biblical Hermeneutics October 8, 2012
Page 1 The authority and truth of the Bible, and related questions have been subjects of much debate especially in the last few centuries. The following essay outlines the meaning of terms such as inerrancy, inspiration, infallibility, historical reliability and canonicity as related to the Bible. A few oppositions to these terms will be examined, and responded to as well. Inerrancy means that scripture in its original manuscript contains nothing that is contrary to fact, regarding everything it talks about (though it may be in everyday ordinary speech including idioms and expressions).More generally it means without error and perfect.1 Some argue that the Bible cannot be inerrant because of copyist errors, saying that one cannot determine what the original said, as there are 6000 surviving manuscripts with variances from spelling mistakes to purposeful additions/ changes to the words.2 However, because manuscripts have been carefully copied many times, 99% is known absolutely what was written in the original. Copying errors are easily identified, and there are very few instances where the original words cannot be easily discerned. Thereby, one can say 99% of our present manuscripts are inerrant, and we know where the <1% (textual variants) are, and that those are the only location where there may be an error in transmission. None of these variances has significant meaning related to the essential tenets of doctrine and practice.3 Some claim that the Bible’s view of cosmology is primitive, teaching that the world is flat, conforming to the commonly held belief at the time.4 Although the surrounding culture, and some biblical authors may have held to those primitive views of cosmology, it actually is not taught or written in the Bible. In fact, the Bible refers to the earth a sphere or circle (Isaiah 40:22). The biblical writings themselves are called inerrant, not necessarily the surrounding culture. God is able to communicate to those people without affirming or teaching false ideas they believed. Sometimes expressions are used similar to, “The sun rises in the east and sets in the west”, and though we say this, we are not making a case that the sun revolves around the earth. It is an simply an expression relative to our position, and is not actually an error. People also claim that the Bible is wrong about the cause of mental illness, saying that it is only emotional disturbance and chemical imbalance in the brain (natural factors), as opposed to the Bible’s suggestion that demonic possession is the cause of mental illness, which can be cured through exorcism (Matt. 8-9, 15, 17, Luke 4).5 In reality, the Bible doesn’t say that mental illness can’t be caused by natural
Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears, Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe (re: Lit) (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2010), 58. 2 Andrew Carruth, “Is the Bible Inerrant? Of Course Not.,” The Voice of Reason: Debunking Jesus, religion and other useless fables, entry posted November 22, 2010, http://god-proof.com/blog/is-the-bible-inerrant-of-coursenot/ (accessed October 7, 2012). 3 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: an Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1994), 96. 4 B. A. Robinson, “Biblical Errancy/inerrancy: Indicators of Biblical Errors: Part 1,” Religious Tolerance.org,http://www.religioustolerance.org/ine_none1.htm (accessed October 7, 2012). 5 B. A. Robinson, “Biblical Errancy/inerrancy: Indicators of Biblical Errors: Part 2,” Religious Tolerance.org,http://www.religioustolerance.org/ine_none3.htm (accessed October 7, 2012).
Page 2 factors. Additionally, chemical imbalances may be a physical result caused by demonization. The assertion that demonization does not exist or occur is an assertion made by one who has not witnessed it. Much mental illness is unexplained by medical professionals, and the fact that subjects were healed when Jesus cast demons out, shows that mental illness can be caused by demonization. If the Bible is God’s word, it must be inerrant or completely perfect, because God cannot lie (Numbers 23:19, 2 Samuel 22:31). Based on God’s character, if the Bible is inspired, it must be inerrant. What, then, does it mean for the Bible to be inspired? Inspiration is the inward work of God in the hearts and minds of the biblical authors as they were writing scripture. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit the authors were prevented from making errors (in the fundamentalist understanding). The Holy Spirit was even involved in the selection of human words, though men retained their own styles of writing. More concisely, the biblical writings are God-breathed miraculous revelation, although the authors and processes themselves are not necessarily inspired.6 Critics say that there are inconsistent and contradictory views taught in the Bible regarding the nature of God, the beginning of Jesus’ sonship, the nature of the afterlife, and the criteria for salvation. They say God in the Pentateuch was angry, and committed genocides and mass murders for trivial reasons such as practicing birth control, looking the wrong direction (lot’s wife), and not being hospitable to strangers. He also had a fit and killed everyone except Noah’s family in the flood. In the Gospels, God became nice Abba (papa), who was a God of love and compassion, and then becomes angry, vengeful, and mean again in Revelation.7 In reality, all of the descriptions of God’s character are true, and though there may be tension between various attributes, they are not contradictory. God is merciful and just, patient and wrathful, humble and powerful, loving and angry. He is jealous for His people, just as a husband would be loving to his wife and angry to anyone that threatened her, so is God in His zeal for love, justice, and righteousness. He judges that which hinders love because of His love. The critics claim that Romans 1:3-4 declare Jesus became the son of God at His resurrection. In reality, it says that His resurrection was a declaration of His sonship. They say Mark 1:10-11 claims His sonship began at His baptism, but it simply states that God said “You are my son…” present tense. The text does not claim that Jesus’ sonship began at that time. Critics claim that Matthew and Luke claimed Jesus’ sonship began at birth, simply due to inclusion of a birth narrative, and John 1 states that Jesus existed in the beginning, before creation.8 To simply recognize that the Bible teaches that Jesus is eternally begotten of the father since the very beginning, and looking carefully at the text solves this whole ridiculous discussion and reveals that the critics have built their own straw man out of false representation of biblical teachings. Critics claim that the Bible’s understanding of hell changed from “everybody goes to Sheol, separated from God, no resurrection” to “resurrection with rewards for obedient, kind people and punishment for evil” (after the Greek invasion) to “Those who believe in Christ go to heaven, those who
Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears, Doctrine, 48. B. A. Robinson, “Indicators of Biblical Errors: Part 2,” http://www.religioustolerance.org/ine_none3.htm 8 B. A. Robinson, “Indicators of Biblical Errors: Part 2,” http://www.religioustolerance.org/ine_none3.htm
Page 3 don’t are annihilated in death” (by Paul) to “Heaven for those who are kind to the poor, hell and eternal punishment for those who aren’t” (in the synoptic gospels) to “There is no hell, just annihilation, for those who don’t believe, but those who believe are rewarded with a glorious heaven” (by John).9 Again, this interpretation is completely false. When Paul says that the wages of sin are death, he does not say annihilation, but eternal death in hell. Abraham and Job believed in the resurrection (Job 19: 25-27, Hebrews 11:10), and John taught about punishment hell (Revelation 14:11). Critics claim that criteria for salvation also changed from “there is no such thing” (in the ancient Hebrew scriptures) to “Kindness and self-sacrifice earns salvation, heaven, reward” (in Daniel), to “Belief in the resurrection qualifies someone for heaven” (Paul) to “Salvation earned by good works” (synoptic gospels), to “Those who believe Jesus is the Son of God go to heaven” (John) to “repentance followed by baptism bring salvation”. These claims are all miss-informed eisegetical interpretations. These assertions on which critics build their attacks are false to begin with. The Bible does bring a uniform message with regards to the nature of God, Jesus’ relation to the Father, the afterlife and criteria for salvation. We know that the Bible is inspired because of its coherence and organic unity between books separated by time, place, geography, and culture. Prophecies with specific fulfilments that have proved accurate prove inspiration (Isaiah 41:21-23, 46:911). Jesus regarded scripture as inspired (Matt 5:18; 19:4; John 10:35). Scripture itself testifies that it is inspired, or God-breathed with no uncertain terms (2 Peter 1:21, 2 Tim 3:16-4:2). Infallible means that the Bible is not able to lead us astray in matters of faith and practice. It is not false, mistaken, or deceptive.10 Critics attack this understanding by pointing to differing Christian beliefs over time, saying that Christians living in any century would be able to discover God’s will by consulting the Bible, and that throughout time the Christian view of right and wrong would remain constant (including abortion, gay rights, women’s rights, capital punishment, assisted suicide, nature of God/ Jesus, salvation, heaven, hell, etc.). They claim, that the Christian perspective on all these matters has changed, however, specifically saying that Christians used to endorse slavery, child beating, divine right of kings, genocide, torment in hell, and transfer of sins, etc. on scriptural basis, but Christians have moved away from these beliefs in recent centuries based on love and the golden rule as taught by Jesus, also in scripture.11 In response to this, one must acknowledge that part of the Bible were applicable only to a specific people in a specific time, for example, the political and ceremonial laws as put in place by Moses (some of which were known to be contrary to what was right; one example is concession for divorce), or Jeremiah’s words to Israel regarding the need to surrender to Babylon. One must interpret what was made to be a timeless principle or command relevant to all believers at all times, verses context specific applications (God’s command for Hosea to marry a prostitute, for example). Holy war was justified by God, who is rightful judge, of those in perfected rebellion and wickedness. God used Israel as a tool to do surgery on the nations, so to speak, in order to remove the cancer of perfected selfdestructive rebellion, so that humanity might survive. The inconsistencies of Christian doctrinal
B. A. Robinson, “Indicators of Biblical Errors: Part 2,” http://www.religioustolerance.org/ine_none3.htm Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 96. 11 B. A. Robinson, “Indicators of Biblical Errors: Part 1,” http://www.religioustolerance.org/ine_none1.htm
Page 4 understanding have changed because of inconsistent hermeneutic. When people want to believe something and try to see it in the Bible, they will pull verses out of context and read their beliefs onto the text. Interpretations differ because of pre-understandings, cultural influences, and personal agendas that supersede the value of finding truth. Christian homosexuality supported with Bible verses is a prime example of this practice. The critics also say that because there is little agreement amongst about 35,000 currently different Christian groups, who refer to Bible verses, regarding almost every doctrine. They say that the Bible’s message on almost any given topic cannot be determined unambiguously, and that the Bible is full of conflicting views on many vital matters.12 Again, this is due to biased pre-understandings and agendas brought to the text. For this argument to be valid, one must assume that all who call themselves “Christian” set aside pre-understanding and bias when approaching the text, do their exegetical homework to really understand the original intended meaning, and engage with the Holy Spirit and community of believers to discern the interpretation and application. It also should be noted that when one views the Bible as symbolic, one can make that symbol mean whatever one pleases. I believe that if one is a lover of truth, lover of Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, and diligently honest and open when approaching the text, he or she will find the truth therein to be clear and consistent. For those whose highest authority for truth is not the Bible, that authority will supersede the Bible, and not allow it to mean anything contrary to what their higher authority teaches. An example of this is the Catholic churches tradition, causing people to believe in infant baptism by sprinkling, and the perpetual virginity of Mary. These things are nowhere to be seen in the Bible, yet Because Catholic tradition says they are, Catholics must then believe that they are. The Bible is infallible, but human interpretations certainly are fallible. Jesus frequently appealed to the infallibility of Scripture as the ultimate place of appeal for truth (Matt. 19:4-5; 22:29,42-45; 23:35; Mark 7:13; Luke 24:44; John 5:39; 10:35). The historical reliability of the Bible means that historical events, dates, personalities, people groups and locations mentioned in the Bible existed, were truthfully reported, and accurate. Some claim that the Bible contains historical errors. Many are said to exist in the Book of Daniel (liberals say Daniel, Belshazzar, Darius, etc. are fictional characters, the stories never occurred, prophecies are inaccurate and written ex-eventu, and was written pseudonymously about four centuries later than what the book itself tells us.13 Critics also say that the Bible was wrong in stating that Egyptians and Philistines were in Canaan at the time of the Exodus. All of these accusations against historical reliability are misguided, however and none of the Biblical texts are disproven by archeology. In fact more recent archeological finds have discovered that the Bible was right all along concerning the content of the Book of Daniel, and that the Philistines were in Canaan during the Exodus,14 and the Egyptians were in Egypt, not Canaan.
B. A. Robinson, “Indicators of Biblical Errors: Part 1,” http://www.religioustolerance.org/ine_none1.htm John J. Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination: an Introduction to Jewish Apocalyptic Literature, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998), 87. -For more comprehensive treatment of the question of Daniel’s authenticity, see my paper posted at http://www.scribd.com/doc/32876672/Authorship-and-Dating-of-Daniel-Apocalyptic-Lit-Research-Essay 14 B. A. Robinson, “Indicators of Biblical Errors: Part 1,” http://www.religioustolerance.org/ine_none1.htm
Page 5 The historical reliability of the Bible is necessarily true if the Bible is inerrant and none of the Bible’s historical statements have been definitively proven unhistorical archeologically. Some difficulties can be easily solved through familiarization with the context (culture, location, purpose, etc.). Additionally, inclusion of characters’ major faults, weaknesses and shortcomings (Abraham, David), as well as reporting of facts that do not help the writer's purpose (woman first to verify the resurrection) are strong indicators that the Bible is historically reliable. The canonicity of the 66 books of the Bible is also an important subject related to the Bible and its authority. Canon comes from the Greek “Κανών” meaning ruler or measuring stick,15 and with reference to the Bible, it is a list of all the books that belong therein. The concept of a canon of truth in scripture began with Moses, especially the 10 commandments written by the finger of God, and has continued throughout Jewish history.16 Early Christians affirmed the same books that the Jews considered to be canonical, including Melito and Origin (second century AD). Melito’s list included every book in the protestant canon except Esther, while Origin’s list includes all of them including Esther, and neither contained extra books that are not included in the Old Testament protestant canon.17 The New Testament was canonized a little later based upon conformity to orthodoxy generally recognized by Christians, apostolicity, and catholicity, or widespread recognition and acceptance amongst churches.18 The Books were not canonized in order to make them authoritative, but because they were already recognized as authoritative, distinctive, divinely inspired, and therefore sacred. The church only confirmed there canonical status.19 The canonization process was finalized at the council of Carthage in 397 A.D.20 The Catholics have a different canon that has included a group of books called the Apocrypha since the Council of Trent in 1546 A.D. in reaction to the reformation and teachings of Martin Luther.21 These books are called deuterocanonical (canonized later) by the Catholic Church, and were canonized or made authoritative because of the Catholic Church's decision to declare them so alone, as they do not meet any of the criteria for canonization of the other books. The Apocrypha and other books should be excluded because they don't claim equality nor similar authority to other scripture, they were not regarded as God's words by the Jews, Jesus and NT authors did not consider them scripture, they contain inconsistent doctrine to the rest of the Bible, and they often contain errors (geographical and historical).22 In contrast, Biblical authors often recognized the inspiration of their own writings (1 Cor. 14:37), and the apostles considered their own writings to be equal to the Old Testament (2 Peter 3:16, 1 Timothy 5:17-18). The 66 books of the Bible are the only ones that should be included, and thus regarded as authoritative, inspired, infallible, historically reliable, and inerrant.
Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears, Doctrine, 51. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 55. 17 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 57-58. 18 Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears, Doctrine, 54. 19 Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears, Doctrine, 52-53. 20 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 64. 21 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 59. 22 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 59-60.
Collins, John J. The Apocalyptic Imagination: an Introduction to Jewish Apocalyptic Literature. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998. Carruth, Andrew. “Is the Bible Inerrant? of Course Not.” The Voice of Reason: Debunking Jesus, religion and other useless fables. Entry posted November 22, 2010. http://god-proof.com/blog/is-thebible-inerrant-of-course-not/ (accessed October 7, 2012). Driscoll, Mark, and Gerry Breshears. Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe (re: Lit). Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2010. Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: an Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1994. Robinson, B. A. “Biblical Errancy/inerrancy: Indicators of Biblical Errors: Part 1.” Religious Tolerance.org. http://www.religioustolerance.org/ine_none1.htm (accessed October 7, 2012). Robinson, B. A. “Biblical Errancy/inerrancy: Indicators of Biblical Errors: Part 2.” Religious Tolerance.org. http://www.religioustolerance.org/ine_none3.htm (accessed October 7, 2012).
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