Thursday, January 28, 2010

Basic Bibliology: The Study of the Bible

An old friend of mine discovered my blog recently and sent me an email which has inspired me to start a new series. In the email my friend asked a great question:

"I have a question for you...and I think you subscribe to the theory of the inerrant bible. Why do we believe the bible is inerrant. I know I'm supposed to believe that, but I don't understand why I'm supposed to believe that when the only one telling me that are people that believe it but don't know why...

Thanks for helping me work through this very important issue...As you know, Church's discourage opening up 'settled' issues and unfortunately that has lead church leadership to not have the answers to these questions because no one dared ask them in seminary lest they be run out on a rail!"

This is an EXCELLENT question, and I would agree with my friend that many churches do sort of brush this question aside as having been "settled." I would also agree that many who hold to biblical inerrancy--as yes, I do--cannot articulate why they do so, and yet insist that Christians agree. I believe this is why in recent years an increasing number of Christians hold to a more liberal view of the Bible's "inspiration," one in which the overall message of the Bible and certain doctrines drawn from it are "infallible," meanwhile acknowledging that there are nevertheless factual and historical errors and contradictions that can't be denied.

BIBLIO-WHA?

"Bibliology" is simply the study of the Bible. By that I don't mean that it is the study of what the Bible teaches, but rather what the Bible is. It is the study of its nature, of its origin, of its history. When we study bibliology we ask questions such as: Is the Bible inerrant? Or is it merely infallible? What is the difference? What does the Bible say about itself? What is the canon, and how was it decided upon? And so on and so forth.

Note that this is not the same thing as "bibliolatry". Bibliolatry is the worship of the Bible, and is typically an accusation leveled at those like myself who believe Scripture is inerrant. Let me be clear: with the exception, perhaps, of some rare pseudo-Christian sects of which I'm completely unaware, Christians do not worship the Bible. That's true of Christians across the bibliological spectrum, as it were, including myself and those like me. That we believe the Bible contains the inerrant Word of God does not mean we elevate it to an object of worship like God Himself.

My initial answer to this question is quite simple: If the Bible contains any errors, how can I possible know whether or not anything it says is erroneous? Of course this does not even come close to fully addressing the many, many issues some have with biblical inerrancy. But I do think my answer makes it clear that there are consequences to our stance on this issue. The moment one accepts that there were any errors in what the authors of Scripture originally wrote is the moment at which one hands over the ability to discern truth from error to one's emotions, to one's leaders, to one's community or to any other fallible human being or group of fallible human beings. That's a concession we must not make lightly.

BASIC BIBLIOLOGY

So with all that having been said, I'm excited to introduce this series in which we will study the nature, origin and history of the Bible. In his email my friend raised many great points, and over time we'll look at all of them and more. If we're going to call ourselves Christians, and if we're going to look to the Bible at all as the source for our world view, we ought to examine this question and grapple with "Basic Bibliology."

8 comments:

  1. The Devil's AdvocateJanuary 28, 2010 at 4:34 PM

    Since we are in the process of re-cannonizing the bible in a sense, I feel it's only appropriate that now, as then, the Devil have his advocate. A roll that I would be honored to fill. It is my sincere hope that at the end of this discussion only truth remains!

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  2. The Devil's AdvocateJanuary 28, 2010 at 4:59 PM

    1) The bible itself teaches about the ministry of the holy spirit. The same spirit that helps us judge between right and wrong each day and helps us glean the truth intended for our hearts out of a sermon each Sunday helps us interpret what is the inerrant Truth of God out of the teachings of imperfect appostles and prophets as they struggled through life.

    2) What is the difference between errors and interpretation. There is not much that is written in the bible that isn't vulnerable to interpretation. Isn't it more dangerous to hand a perfect, inerrant work of God's own hand over to someone with evil intent so he can take a kernal of truth but then bends the surrounding scripture to his will? How do the weak argue against that. The spirit is telling them that he is wrong, but the words are inerrant so he can't be wrong?

    3) The Holy spirit is always required to intervene so that the true servant of God can understand the deep mysteries hidden everywhere and especially in the bible. Jesus often spoke in parables so that the people would come to understand that wisdom and understanding do not come from even Jesus's own words, but that the things Jesus was saying would connect with what was already written by God on their own hearts.

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  3. Thanks, DA, for your input. I don't consider what we're doing in this thread "re-canonizing" the Bible, but I do appreciate your playing this role throughout this thread. Please know moving forward, however, that there are numerous theological debate sites you can visit if you wish to engage in such a thing. TheologyWeb is a good one, owned (?) by Dee Dee Warren of the Preterist Podcast. I'd like to keep long, back-and-forth threads to a minimum at my blog.

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  4. Great points, DA, but as I said in the OP, and in response to you in email, I'd like to address them over time in bite-size, digestible chunks.

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  5. DA followed up in email, and I realize that my point may not have come across well. Here's what he said:

    "My comments on the page were directly related to the particular defenses you raised in that particular blog. I was just hoping you could address them in a subsequent blog. You have the 'Bully Pulpit' in a sense and dropping down to the comments section to do a point/counter point is un-necessary but they should probably be addressed at some point."

    I completely agree. Note that what I said was, "Great points, DA, but as I said...I'd like to address them over time in bite-size digestible chunks."

    In case my comments were unclear, I absolutely welcome questions. But everyone needs to know I have a full-time job and a full-time family; I'm training for a power-lifting competition; my wife and I are part of a small group that meets weekly and has "homework" outside the normal meeting; AND I want to continue ALL my series on this blog.

    So my point was that I cannot engage in a back-and-forth several times a day type of debate like you see on forums dedicated to that purpose, like the one I linked to above. Please, DA--and anybody else--share your questions and objections, but know that I will not be able to respond to them all at once, nor in a brief period of time.

    I intend to address each of your issues, DA, both those you listed in your original email, and the ones you raise here in the public arena. But it will take time, and likely a lot of it.

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  6. Chris's Adovate (Phillip)February 1, 2010 at 5:44 PM

    I think DA bring's up a lot of good points, and I think a lot of them are probably addressed in scripture itself already. These are problems that go back to when the church was still forming and will continue to happen till Jesus comes back.

    Paul's epistles talk directly about these issues, "false doctrine" and "sound doctrine." Specifically in Timothy, Titus and Colosians. I'm sure in other places too, that I can't think of off hand at the moment. It seems to me the directions against false teachers relate to your points here DA. Of course, my interpretation of the meaning of these scriptures could be off!!! lol

    That is why we need to be in community as believers, so we can keep each other in check. So we can see how the holy spirit moves us collectively to interpret something.

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  7. Thanks "CA" :) To your reply, I wonder about the difference between the scripture speaking about sound doctrine and a pastor speaking about the same on Sunday morning. I've sat through many great sermons on the subject of false teachings, how to discern Truth from false doctrine etc. They both (The pastor, and the writers of scripture) definitely claim to be presenting their impression of the Holy Spirit's guidance, but neither of them claim to be speaking perfection as if God Himself had entered into their body and removed all traces of themselves so that they were able to deliver His perfect instruction in the form of an inerrant message. Paul himself hedges when he speaks in terms of this is from me and this is from God...

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  8. With all due respect, DA, I think you're reading more into Paul's words than is justified. All he said was that the Lord didn't speak those words to him personally. That does not mean it's not the correct extrapolation of what the Lord DID say. For example, the Bible does not explicitly say God is plural in nature, i.e. triune. Nevertheless, it is the clear teaching of Scripture.

    Also, in my subsequent post to this one, I demonstrate that Peter viewed Paul's writings as Scripture, just as the rest of Scripture. So even where Paul extrapolates, his writings are still the "God-breathed" Word that Peter viewed the Old Testament to be. (If you wish to argue this point, please do so in that post.)

    As for the issue of false teachings and contradictory interpretations, that will come later in this series.

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