Thursday, December 22, 2011

Is Scripture Totally Trustworthy?

Today, we ask the question, “Is Scripture inerrant” – without errors in its original writing. And it’s an essential question! Theologian R.C. Sproul writes that although believing in “inerrancy” might not be necessary for salvation,

• It is a very important part of the growth process of the Christian to rest his confidence in the truthful revelation of the Word of God and thereby be moved inwardly to conform to the image of Christ. A strong doctrine of the authority of Scripture [which you can’t have if you believe that Scripture pock-marked with errors], when properly implemented, should bead a person to a greater degree of conformity to that Word he espouses as true. (Can I Trust the Bible? 64)

In opposition to this understanding, the late theologian and professing “evangelical,” Clark Pinnock, wrote,

• God uses fallible spokesmen all the time to deliver His Word, and it does not follow that the Bible must be otherwise.

However, when confronted with a difficult command, like “forgive those who have hurt you,” it will be difficult to apply if we’re not sure that the teaching is free from error. It’s just too easy to convince ourselves that our enemy has just gone too far.

Just last night, I was at a discussion group at the Ethical Culture Society. One Episcopalian woman lamented that everything is now up in the air, and she no longer knows what to believe. Her state of confusion was palpable and fully understandable. Her church no longer preached the Bible as God’s inerrant Word. How then could she discern truth amidst the many competing voices circling her head like flies?

However, this is precisely the perplexity resulting from Pinnock’s position:

• It is important to insist that the Bible is a merely human text – written, copied, translated, and interpreted by fallible people. It contains all manner of internal contradictions, moral blemishes, legend and saga, inaccuracies, and the like. It is a collection of intensely human documents and is not an authority beyond criticism or correction. To regard it as God’s written Word is an idolatrous perversion of belief which must be dethroned.

Why is this belief “idolatrous” when it is exactly the teaching of the Bible! Jesus taught that “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). If Scripture is man’s word, then there is every reason in the world that it should be broken or set aside. Instead, Jesus taught that our lives depended upon embracing every word of Scripture as God’s Word:

• Jesus answered [the devil], "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'" (Matthew 4:4)

Jesus always quoted Scripture as absolutely authoritative, never giving any indication whatsoever that any of it was in error! If taking Scripture as the Word of God is idolatrous, then following Jesus is also idolatrous, since this is what He taught! What then wouldn’t be idolatrous in Pinnock’s mind? According to Jesus, even the smallest letter had its divine purpose:

• "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:17-18)

Consistent with this assertion, He taught that everything in Scripture had to be fulfilled:

• He said to them, "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms." (Luke 24:44)

He left no verse out of this equation. Even the most personal of the writings – the Psalms – had to be completely fulfilled.

Jesus’ teaching was also the teaching of all of His Apostles. Peter claimed that the teachings of the Apostles weren’t their own private teaching but the teaching of the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:19-21; 3:2; 1 Peter 1:10-11). John even wrote that the words of his own book were as inviolable as those of the Torah (Rev. 22:18-19; Deut. 4:2; 12:42). Meanwhile, Paul claimed that all Scripture was breathed forth by God Himself:

• All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:16-17)

Has there been errors in Scripture, then Paul would have been wrong in writing that the “man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Errors would mislead and not reliably equip!

The Old Testament was equally insistent that Scripture is God’s very Words. Israel had to obey everything that had been written, not just those sections that could be reliably established as inspired. There could be no picking-and-choosing!

In contrast to this teaching, Pinnock maintained that inerrancy was not relevant to Scripture:

• Instead of placing emphasis upon the saving truth of the Bible to bear witness to Christ, attention is focused on the precise accuracy of minor details. This unfortunate development does not do justice to the kind of book the Bible is. Minute inerrancy might be the central issue of the telephone book, but not for…

However, the teachings of Jesus depended upon “minute inerrancy.” His teaching that the Patriarchs still lived was based upon a tiny detail. Jesus proved His point by quoting from Exodus 3:

• “But about the resurrection of the dead--have you not read what God said to you, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is not the God of the dead but of the living." (Matthew 22:31-32)

The details make all the difference. God had not replied, “I had been their God,” but “I am…” Paul asserted:

• For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Romans 15:4)

None of the teachings of the Bible suggest that we have the liberty to disregard details by virtue of “higher criticism” or any other consideration. Pinnock and many others also claim that the doctrine of inerrancy is a recent invention, unknown to the fathers of the Church. However, no church father could possibly be ignorant of this teaching if he had any knowledge of Scripture. Besides, Sproul argues that they indeed had been in agreement with this vital doctrine:

• Luther argued that the Scriptures never “err.” To say that the Scriptures never err is to say nothing more or less than that the Bible is inerrant. So though the word “inerrancy” is of relatively modern invention, the concept is rooted not only in the biblical witness of Scripture itself but also in its acceptance by the vast majority of God’s people throughout the history of the Christian church. We find the doctrine taught, embraced and espoused by men such as Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, Jonathan Edward, and other Christian scholars and teachers throughout church history. (58-59)

Inevitably, when we dump this doctrine, we then make ourselves the ultimate authority. We decide what portions of Scripture are truly inspired and which aren’t. Instead of Scripture judging us, we have positioned ourselves to judge Scripture – which parts are truly inspired and which aren’t.

Ironically, it isn’t even us who are the judges but our culture. Thomas Jefferson had re-written the Bible, leaving out the miracles. Why? Because in his Deistic culture, miracles were an offense to the modern mind! Today we are more apt to reject the teachings about divine judgment. They have become the offense to our permissive culture.

But do we then stuff the problem verses – those that seem to contradict? Are we putting our heads in the sand as some allege? Sproul, while admitting that “there are some as-yet-unresolved apparent contradictions,” claims that progress is being made:

• A great many alleged contradictions have been resolved…The trend has been in the direction of fewer problems rather than more of them. (49)

More importantly, an apparent contradiction doesn’t prove an actual contradiction. Sproul argues:

• The number of seriously difficult passages compared with the total quantity of material found there is small indeed. It would be injudicious and even foolhardy for us to ignore the truth claims of the Bible simply because of the so-far-unresolved difficulties. We have a parallel here with the presence of anomalies in the scientific world. (50-51)

If we don’t throw away science because of the anomalies – apparent contradictions to prior scientific findings – should we do so when confronted by the anomalies of Scripture? Of course not! Besides, the Creator is further beyond our understanding than is His creation. Therefore, we should be less insistent to throw away the doctrine of inerrancy simply because Scripture doesn’t seem to fit together coherently.

If we throw away this doctrine, we throw away any possible vitality that the church might enjoy. Sproul affirms this concern:

• We believe that history has demonstrated again and again that all too often there is a close relationship between rejection of inerrancy and subsequent defections from the matters of the Christian faith that are essential to salvation. When the church loses its confidence in the authority of sacred Scripture, it inevitably looks to human opinion as its guiding light. When that happens, the purity of the church is direly threatened.

“Threatened?” The church soon becomes ready for hospice care!

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