Friday, January 29, 2010

Basic Bibliology: What Do You Say that You Are?

The study of bibliology is a complex one, and there are a number of places I'm sure we could start. I think that a natural place to start is with the Bible's self-testimony. That is, what does Scripture say of itself? What does the Bible claim itself to be? This is by no means the end of the discussion; as we'll see, thanks to the great points raised by a new reader (and old friend), there are many questions which must be asked, many issues which must be examined. And we won't neglect them.

Nevertheless, we must start somewhere, so we might as well start here. Jesus once asked Peter, "who do you say that I am" (Matthew 16:15)? Similarly, how does Scripture respond when we ask, "What do you say that you are?" We'll discover that the consistent testimony is that it is the very words breathed out by God, not the product primarily of human will; that by virtue of being His words it must be true; and that His words endure forever.

THE BREATH OF GOD

"All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

A tremendous amount of bibliology is packed tightly into these two short verses, which is why we'll start here. Certain translations--including my favorite, the NASB--do the original text a disservice by rendering the passage using the word "inspired." The Greek word originally used is θεόπνευστος (theopneustos, "thee-ah-noo-stahs"), a combination of the words θεός (theos) meaning God, and πνέω (pneō) meaning "to breathe." Therefore, all Scripture--whatever it is to which that refers--is "breathed out" by God. This has led to other translations rendering the passage thusly:

"All Scripture is God-breathed" (NIV)

"Every part of Scripture is God-breathed" (The Message)

"Every Scripture is God-breathed" (Amplified)

"All Scripture is breathed out by God" (ESV)

So it is not merely that God gave the authors of Scripture some vague, wishy-washy feeling in guiding them to write what they wrote. The words penned by the authors of the Bible are the very words of God. He breathed them out onto the pages of Scripture. This isn't to suggest that God literally dictated the text of Scripture to the biblical authors; no inerrantist believes that. But it does mean that God moved within them to write precisely the words they wrote.

It should also be pointed out that these and most (if not all) other translations quantify "Scripture" using the word "all" or "every" because the original begins with the Greek word πᾶς (pas) which, generally, means just that: all of, or every one of. There are some cases in which it means "some of all types;" see my post in another thread, "Unless the Father Draws Him," for an example. However, that meaning is the exception, not the rule, and is derived from the context in which the word is used. In this case, the author has not listed different kinds of Scripture, so the plain meaning of "all" or "every" is intended here.

ALL SCRIPTURE IS PROFITABLE

What are the implications of Scripture being breathed out by God? Well, we're here told that all Scripture is "profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness." The surface meaning of these words seems pretty clear, but so that we're certain, let's break it down word by word. The word "profitable" is the Greek word ὠφέλιμος (ōphelimos, "oh-feh-lee-mahs") and means "producing an advantage or profit," coming from the root ὄφελος (ophelos) meaning "profit" or "advantage." Other translations render it "useful," so all Scripture is useful in the following ways.

The word "teaching" is the Greek word διδασκαλία (didaskalia, "deh-dah-skah-lee-ah") and refers to the teaching of doctrine. Jesus quotes Isaiah as prophesying of the Pharisees, "'BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES [διδασκαλία] THE PRECEPTS OF MEN'" (Matthew 15:9). Paul wrote to Timothy saying, "But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines [διδασκαλία] of demons" (1 Timothy 4:1). So all Scripture is useful in teaching true doctrine.

The word "reproof" is the Greek word ἔλεγχος (elegchos, "eh-leh-khahs") meaning "a proof, "that by which a thing is proved or tested." It derives from the root ἐλέγχω (elegchō, "eh-leg-kho") meaning "to convict, to refute." Jesus said, "Which one of you convicts [ἐλέγχω] Me of sin? If I speak truth, why do you not believe Me?" (John 8:46). Paul wrote to Titus saying, "For the overseer must...be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute [ἐλέγχω] those who contradict" (Titus 1:7-9). So all Scripture is useful for the purpose of convicting (in terms of guilt) and refutation (in the sense of silencing false teachers).

The word "correction" is the Greek word ἐπανόρθωσις (epanorthōsis, "eh-pah-nahr-tho-sis") which comes from the root ἀνορθόω (anorthoō, "ah-nahr-thaw-oh") meaning "to set up, make erect, renew or make straight." Paul quotes Old Testament Scripture depicting God as saying, "I WILL REBUILD THE TABERNACLE OF DAVID WHICH HAS FALLEN, AND I WILL REBUILD ITS RUINS, AND I WILL RESTORE IT [ἀνορθόω]" (Acts 15:16). So all Scripture is useful for restoring those with false beliefs to the truth.

The word "training" is the Greek word παιδεία (paideia, "pie-die-ah") referring usually to discipline, to chastening. The author of Hebrews says, "For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline [παιδεία] for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness" (Hebrews 12:10-11). So all Scripture is useful for disciplining unto righteousness.

If we think about this short statement, we might wonder how it is that any words of Scripture can be useful for proper doctrine if they may or may not be true. We might ask ourselves how it is that any passage from the Bible can be useful for silencing false teachers if it may or may not be true. We might question whether any verse in God's word can be useful for restoring those with false beliefs to true understanding if it may or may not be true. And we might doubt that anything we read in Scripture can be useful for discipline resulting in sanctification if it may or may not be true. It is evident that what the Bible tells us, then, is that the reason all Scripture is useful in these ways is because it's all true.

HIS WORD WAS ON MY TONGUE

Perhaps I'm overstating what it means that Scripture is "breathed out" by God. Does it really mean that the words in the Bible are actually God's words?

"Now these are the last words of David. David the son of Jesse declares, the man who was raised on high declares, the anointed of the God of Jacob, and the sweet psalmist of Israel, 'The Spirit of the LORD spoke by me, and His word was on my tongue.'" (2 Samuel 23:1-2)

Many of the psalms in Scripture claim to have been authored by David. Here David says "the Spirit of the LORD spoke by me, and His word was on my tongue." What does it mean that Scripture authored by David is "breathed out" by God? It means David's words were God's words; that when David spoke (and his words were transcribed) God was speaking.

"Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of David His servant--As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old" (Luke 1:68-70)

"'And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, just as your rulers did also. But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled.'" (Acts 3:17-18)

"Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures" (Romans 1:1-2)

David and the prophets were merely vessels; it was God doing the speaking. The words contained in Scripture are not just man's wods, they're God's words. The Bible is not just the "word of God," they are the very words of God.

A MATTER OF ONE'S OWN INTERPRETATION

Okay, so yeah, we're told that the words recorded in the Bible are God's words. But does that really mean that its human authors couldn't have inserted stuff not from God?

"But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God." (2 Peter 1:20-21)

The authors of Scripture were not writing down words of their own making. Rather, they were moved by the Holy Spirit to speak the words God gave them.

"At this time Peter stood up in the midst of the brethren (a gathering of about one hundred and twenty persons was there together), and said, 'Brethren, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit foretold by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus.'" (Acts 1:15-16)

Again, what was written in Scripture is what the Holy Spirit moved the authors to write. But here we something more: the Scripture had to be fulfilled. Why? Because the authors didn't insert anything that wasn't from God. Because God said it.

"Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures" (Romans 1:1-2)

"Paul, a bond-servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the faith of those chosen of God and the knowledge of the truth which is according to godliness, in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago" (Titus 1:1-2)

"For when God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself...God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us." (Hebrews 6:13-18)

Why was it said that the Scripture had to be fulfilled? Because it contains the promises, not of men, but of God, and it is impossible that God would lie. This is important, for if the Scriptures are the words of God, and if God is omniscient, then what we read in Scripture must be true.

"Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth." (John 17:17)

"let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, 'THAT YOU MAY BE JUSTIFIED IN YOUR WORDS, AND PREVAIL WHEN YOU ARE JUDGED.'" (Romans 3:4)

"And He said, 'Write, for these words are faithful and true.'" (Revelation 21:5)

If the Scriptures are the very words of God, as we've seen the Bible claims to be the case, then we are told to believe that every word is true, because every word is from God.

PAUL'S LETTERS AND THE REST OF THE SCRIPTURES

We might at this point ask if it is only the Old Testament Scripture that contains the "words of God." We've thus far only looked at the Bible's claim that the Scripture that was available to the New Testament authors was "breathed out" by God. Is that true of anything beyond the Old Testament? Immediately above we saw that John wrote the true and faithful words of God in the book of Revelation, but there's more.

"...regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness" (2 Peter 3:15-17, emphasis mine)

Remember that in the beginning of this post we saw that the Bible says "all Scripture" is God-breathed. Here we see that Peter, who was one of Jesus' closest disciples, groups all of Paul's writings together with "the rest of the Scriptures." The words "the rest of" is the translation of the Greek word λοιπός (loipos, "loy-pahs") which means "the rest of any number or class under consideration." Here is how the word λοιπός is used by Jesus:

"Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the prudent, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' But the prudent answered, 'No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.' And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut. Later the other [λοιπός] virgins also came, saying, 'Lord, lord, open up for us.'" (Matthew 25:7-11)

In this context, there were two smaller groups within a larger group. The smaller groups were the foolish virgins and the prudent virgins, and the larger group is the virgins altogether. In Jesus' parable, the foolish virgins must leave to purchase oil, and while they're gone the bridegroom arrives and the prudent virgins go to the feast with him. Then, λοιπός, "the other" or "the rest of the" virgins arrive, and are shut out.

So when Peter speaks of Paul's letters, and then says that they are sometimes hard to understand along with λοιπός, "the other" or "the rest of the" Scriptures, we see that Peter--again, one of Jesus' closest disciples--considers Paul's letters Scripture. Therefore, it falls under the category of "all Scripture," and thus must be as "breathed out" by God as the rest. Paul's words are God's words. Indeed, Paul tells us as much:

"...by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit;" (Ephesians 3:3-5)

Paul tells his readers that when they read his letters they can understand his insight. And what is "his insight?" That which was revealed to him. And whereas in previous generations--those in which the Old Testament Scriptures were written--certain things of God were hidden, in Paul and Christ's other holy apostles those mysteries have been revealed. They are not merely speaking their own thoughts and ideas; they are writing the very revelation of God.

"If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord's commandment." (1 Corinthians 14:37)

"For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep." (1 Thessalonians 4:15)

"the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons" (1 Timothy 4:1)

Paul clearly believed that what he was passing on in his letters was "the Lord's commandment," "by the word of the Lord" and that it was "explicitly" said by the Spirit of God. But it is not only Paul's words that are the "words of God:"

"'What [Jesus] has seen and heard, of that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony. He who has received His testimony has set his seal to this, that God is true. For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He gives the Spirit without measure.'" (John 3:32-34)

Jesus also spoke "the words of God," and Jesus' words are recorded in the gospels and elsewhere in the New Testament. And Jesus said:
 
"Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished." (Matthew 5:17-18)
 
"Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away." (Matthew 24:35)

The "Law and the Prophets" is a reference to the Tanakh, otherwise known as the Old Testament. Jesus tells us that "not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass" from the Old Testament until all is accomplished. Indeed, He went so far as to say His words would not pass away.
 
WHAT DO YOU SAY THAT YOU ARE?
 
It's difficult to escape the implications of what we've read. What would the Bible say if asked, "What do you say that you are?" It would say that it is the words of God breathed through the vessels of men, whose own will could not thwart that of God's. Because the words they wrote are, in fact, precisely the words God willed them to write, they are trustworthy because God is true and cannot lie. And as Jesus said, neither the words of the Law and the Prophets nor the words He Himself spoke will pass away; they will endure forever.

There are certainly numerous other questions left to be answered. However, we must acknowledge that the Bible is not silent regarding itself, nor is it vague. It makes the clear claim that it contains the perfect and true words of God, who cannot lie and whose words are trustworthy. The Bible claims to be not just the "word of God" but the very words of the true and faithful God. THIS is the beginning of "Basic Bibliology."

6 comments:

  1. Chris' Advocate (aka Phillip)February 4, 2010 at 1:53 AM

    "All Scripture is breathed out by God" ESV

    WOOT WOOT!!! Score one point to the ESV for getting it right!!!! ;-)

    I'm just starting to read this post. I'm excited to get through it. Where do you get your info on what the orginal Greek words are?

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  2. Blue Letter Bible gives you access to the original Greek and Hebrew. It's AWESOME.

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  3. The first instance of God breathing into something was in Genesis where he breathed life into Adam. Everything we know about God say's that he could have made Adam perfect. If we believe that God himself is perfect, how could his creation, something that He breathed His very life into be other than perfect. Something happens and is allowed to happen when the perfect God of creation interacts and acts in and through his imperfect creation.

    Jesus, God incarnate, walked the earth and had the ability to very clearly deliver the well digested and easy to understand version of God's truth to the people. He chose instead to speak in parables. He said Himself the purpose of such was to hide the truth. Why hide the truth, why obscure it in riddles? Why not dictate perfect truth to a scribe, have it copied, bound, and distributed to the masses! I think the reason for that is very clear when he say's to Peter "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven."

    The first Canonical bible wasn't assembled until over a hundred years after Jesus's death. Our bible wasn't assembled for hundreds of years more. There are dozens of different bible canons used by hundreds of different sects of Christianity (or those claiming to be Christians). Each of those translations was done by groups of highly educated scholars with as firm a command of the dead languages as is possible.

    God's perfect truth is contained only in Himself. Parts of it are visible to us in moments of clariity. "Now we see things imperfectly as in a cloudy mirror" To the bible and the work of the Holy Spirit we are deeply in debted that we have any image at all. The image is perfect, the mirror is flawed and we have planks in our eyes... :) A receipe for disaster? maybe just the recipe for a story of life from fall to redemption. "but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely." (1Cor13:12NLT)

    -DA

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  4. Good to hear from you, DA. I apologize for not keeping up with this series. I intend to, honestly, but life has caught up with me. Keep your eyes open, they'll come. Since it's taking so long, however, I'll engage you to a certain extent in debate now.

    You said, "The first instance of God breathing into something was in Genesis where he breathed life into Adam. Everything we know about God say's that he could have made Adam perfect. If we believe that God himself is perfect, how could his creation, something that He breathed His very life into be other than perfect. Something happens and is allowed to happen when the perfect God of creation interacts and acts in and through his imperfect creation."

    First, yes, Adam was made perfect. Can you show me evidence from Scripture that he was not?

    But this is moot. The question is not can God breathe imperfection, but can God breathe something that's not true. Can you show where Scripture either says God can lie, or where it presents God as lying? These passages also say that Scripture contains the very words of God. What you're suggesting is that the words of God are untrue.

    You said, "Jesus, God incarnate, walked the earth and had the ability to very clearly deliver the well digested and easy to understand version of God's truth to the people. He chose instead to speak in parables. He said Himself the purpose of such was to hide the truth. Why hide the truth, why obscure it in riddles? Why not dictate perfect truth to a scribe, have it copied, bound, and distributed to the masses! I think the reason for that is very clear when he say's to Peter "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.""

    Actually, he very specifically said He spoke in parables to hide the truth from certain people, not all people. Can you show me where in Scripture he speaks in parables to hide the truth from the elect?

    Furthermore, he explained the parables to His disciples, which explanations we have recorded in Scripture (for most of them, anyway). So this point is additionally irrelevant.

    Finally, yes, God revealed the truth to Simon, but it didn't contradict any of the Scriptures, and it was revealed to him through the works and words of Jesus as demonstrated to be consistent with the Scriptures. You appear to be setting up a false dichotomy, that either God reveals truth to the Christian, or the Bible does. The Church has maintained for nearly 2,000 years that God reveals truth to the Christian through the Scriptures, not apart from them. And His revelation to Simon is consistent with that view.

    Also, it's important to remember that each time you point to God revealing truth to people, you're pointing to Scripture that says it! How, DA, do you know that the Holy Spirit reveals truth to us? "Because the Scripture says it," you might say. But how do you know the Scripture is true? "Because the Holy Spirit confirms to me that it is," you might respond. But how do you know that the Holy Spirit reveals truth to us? "Because the Scripture says it," you might say. Do you see the circular nature of this approach?

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  5. You said, "The first Canonical bible wasn't assembled until over a hundred years after Jesus's death. Our bible wasn't assembled for hundreds of years more. There are dozens of different bible canons used by hundreds of different sects of Christianity (or those claiming to be Christians). Each of those translations was done by groups of highly educated scholars with as firm a command of the dead languages as is possible."

    This is terribly simplistic and doesn't accurately present the history of the Bible. But I'll address that in a post later in this series. Continue to believe that for now if you like, we'll get to it later.

    You said, "God's perfect truth is contained only in Himself. Parts of it are visible to us in moments of clariity. "Now we see things imperfectly as in a cloudy mirror""

    You just quoted the Scripture as proof that perfect truth is contained only in Himself. See the circular argument above.

    You said, "To the bible and the work of the Holy Spirit we are deeply in debted that we have any image at all. The image is perfect, the mirror is flawed and we have planks in our eyes... :)"

    Yes, but this is a criticism of human nature, not the nature of Scripture.

    You said, "A receipe for disaster? maybe just the recipe for a story of life from fall to redemption. "but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely." (1Cor13:12NLT)"

    You again quote Scripture. How do you know that Scripture is true?

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  6. Glad to see that you are all Roman Catholics/Greek Orthodox. I was under the impression that this was a protestant blog.

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