ARE THE BIBLICAL SCRIPTURES RELIABLE? PART FIVE
Are the Biblical Scriptures the word of God?
Most Christians look upon the Bible as the word of God. It is believed God imparted to human writers His thoughts through the vehicle of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, it is believed the Bible is simply a reflection of the mind of God in print. Is Biblical Scripture the mind of God in print? Jesus is quoted as saying the Holy Spirit would bring to remembrance those things He taught his disciples. The Holy Spirit is identified as “the Spirit of truth” which would guide recipients of the Holy Spirit into all truth and also tell what is yet to come. We know from the recorded events on Pentecost that the Holy Spirit was given as promised. We see the Holy Spirit spoken of by Jesus in the following Scriptures.
John 14:25: But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.
John 15:26: When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.
John 16:13: But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.
The Holy Spirit is identified as a Counselor which would testify of Christ. The Greek word translated Counselor is paraclete. This word is variously translated as counselor, comforter, advocate and helper. The Holy Spirit is also identified in Scripture as the power by which we are ushered into the Kingdom of God and eternal life. Apostle John shows that having the Spirit is what identifies us as having God in us. Paul says the Spirit identifies our being in Christ. Paul says we should allow the Spirit to control us and not allow our sinful nature to control us (Romans 8:5-9). Paul shows God’s Spirit is a Spirit of power, love and sound mindedness (2 Timothy 1:7). Paul also shows that the Spirit can be stirred up and it can be quenched (2 Timothy 1:6-7, 1 Thessalonians 5:19).
The Spirit of God is virtually the power and mind of God in action. In Isaiah 40:13 the prophet says, “Who hath directed the spirit (Hebrew: ruah) of the LORD (YHWH), or being his counselor hath taught him” (KJV)? Apostle Paul quotes this passage when he says, “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?" (Romans 11:34). Paul identifies the Spirit of God with the mind of God.
In the Septuagint, the Greek word nous is used to translate the Hebrew ruah. This word in the Greek means the faculty of intellect, perceiving, understanding, feeling, judging, determining and so forth. Paul is apparently quoting the Septuagint translation of Isaiah 40:13 where nous is used to define the Hebrew ruah. Nous is appropriately translated into English as “mind.” It is apparent the Septuagint translators understood the Spirit to be associated with the mind of God and rendered ruah as nous which is defined as dynamics of cognitive function.
When one looks at the hundreds of references to the Spirit of God in the Scriptures, it becomes apparent God’s Spirit is an expression and manifestation of what God is. God’s Spirit is the power by which He creates and sustains. Scripture records that God speaks things into existence. Therefore, God’s Spirit is his power of mind and thought. The Spirit of God is characterized by knowledge, wisdom and understanding. When we experience God as counselor, comforter, advocate, helper and truth, we are in essence experiencing and participating in the knowledge, wisdom and understanding of God. Scripture consistently shows the Spirit of God to be dynamics of mind and power.
The manifestation of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost in A.D. 31 was a special manifestation that empowered the disciples of Jesus to boldly preach the gospel and thus begin the development of the New Covenant Church. It must be understood this was not the first time in scriptural history the Holy Spirit was found to indwell man. We see John the Baptist being filled with the Holy Spirit from birth. In referring to John, Luke writes: “he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth” (Luke 1:15). Both Elizabeth and Zechariah, the mother and father of John the Baptist are said to have been filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:41, 67). In Psalm 51:11, David asks God not to take His Holy Spirit from Him.
Psalm 51:11: Do not cast me from your presence or take your holy Spirit from me.
In speaking of Israel, the prophet Isaiah wrote the following:
Isaiah 63:10-11: Yet they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit. So he turned and became their enemy and he himself fought against them. Then his people recalled the days of old, the days of Moses and his people-- where is he who brought them through the sea, with the shepherd of his flock? Where is he who set his Holy Spirit among them?
These accounts show that the Holy Spirit was available and had indwelled some before the Pentecost event. In most cases the Holy Spirit appears to have been available to be present among people but not indwelling them. Indwelling of the Holy Spirit for people in general did not become available until the Pentecost event in A.D. 31.
John 7:38-39: Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.
John 14:16-17: And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever-- the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.
With the events of Pentecost in A.D. 31, the Holy Spirit became available as the indwelling presence of God. As an indwelling presence, the Holy Spirit functions as counselor, comforter, advocate, helper and provider of truth. Christ told His disciples the Holy Spirit would bring things He taught them to their remembrance. Paul shows how this is accomplished. Paul reveals that by having the Spirit of God we participate in the very thoughts of God. Scripture shows the Spirit God to be God’s dynamic of mind and power
1 Corinthians 2:11: For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.
Romans 8:16: The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God (KJV).
The Spirit of God appears to associate with our human spirit in a way that allows for the very thoughts of God to be manifested in our human thinking so that our thinking becomes an expression of the thinking of God. When Jesus told the disciples the Spirit as counselor would teach them all things, remind them of everything Christ had said to them and guide them into all truth, including knowledge of what is yet to come, Jesus was telling them their thoughts were going to be influenced by God.
Does the influence of the mind of God on our human mind equate with inerrant thinking leading to inerrant writing? Does the action of God’s Spirit on the thinking of Scriptural writers equate to their writing absolutely inerrant documents.
We have seen that Luke gathered information from a variety of sources. There is every reason to believe Luke had the Spirit of God dwelling within him. Does this mean that everything Luke wrote was absolutely accurate down to every last detail? The testimony of Scripture, itself, speaks against such a conclusion. In Part four of this series, we identified a number of inconsistencies and outright contradictions when comparing the writings of different Scriptural authors reporting the same events. We also found such inconsistencies and contradictions to be of no consequence as there is basic agreement as to the event happening.
People sometimes use the expression, “the devil is in the detail.” The implication is that it is in the details you discover the truth or falsehood of a matter. While this may be true when evaluating a State budget plan or union contract, it has little bearing on reporting historical events. Either historical events happened or they didn’t happen. The Gospel writers provide us with multiple attestations to the events they record as having happened. The truth of what they wrote does not demand that every detail be exactly accurate.
It should be apparent that God did not micro manage the thoughts of those who wrote the Scriptural documents or any other documents that were from time to time considered Scripture. As covered earlier in these essays, Biblical Scripture is a collection of writings that became identified as worthy of reverence and instructive of the things of God. This is what “holy” means when applied to Scripture. Holy Scripture does not equal inerrant Scripture. Scripture does not have to be inerrant to be holy. As seen in the section on canonization, a number of documents, such as the Shepard of Hermas, the Didache and the Epistle of Barnabas, where at various times considered Holy Scripture because these documents were considered documents instructive of the things of God. These documents were not inerrant. Yet they were held in high esteem and considered “inspired” Scripture.
As discussed in part one of this series, the Bible is a collection of documents consisting of histories, poetry, prophetic and wisdom literature, letters, gospels and other forms of communication. A wide variety of authors and writing styles are represented in the Bible. Apostle Paul writes that Scripture is Theopneustos, God breathed. As discussed in part three of this series, Theopneustos is a compound word consisting of Theos which means God and pneuma which is the Greek word translated as spirit, breath and wind in the NT. When Jesus speaks of the Spirit of God, he is speaking of the pneuma of God. Scripture reveals the pneuma of God equates with the presence of God which is seen to be everywhere.
Psalm 139:7: Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me.
Biblical Scriptures show the Spirit of God fills the universe. It is the power whereby all things are sustained. God’s Spirit is all around us all the time. When a Matthew, Luke, Paul or Peter sat down and wrote a Gospel or a letter, the Spirit of God as counselor was present with them. When David wrote Psalms or Solomon wrote wisdom literature, the Spirit of God was present. Their thoughts became influenced by God’s thoughts. At times God is seen as speaking directly through people as in the case of prophetic writings. At other times writers may simply be responding to the manifestation of God’s Spirit as seen in the events being recorded. They are inspired by what they personally experience or what they learn about what others have experienced. When the Gospel writers record the events of Christ’s birth, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension, they are recording the manifestation of God’s Spirit as seen in those events. It is evident, however, that their recording of such events also involved human perspectives and perceptions
When a Christian minister counsels someone and asks for God’s Spirit to guide the counseling, this does not do away with the ministers presuppositions, prejudices, cultural conditioning, personal experiences and other dynamics coming into play. Every human Being is a sum total of their life’s experiences, all of which come into play when communicating verbally or through the written word. There is no reason to believe the authors of the documents that became canonized Scripture somehow surrendered all their personal perspectives, perceptions and presuppositions when writing these documents.
The canonized NT documents, even though lacking total internal consistency, are felt to accurately report the Christ event and the theological perspectives that sprang from that event. While there is basic agreement within Christianity as to what these documents reveal as to the need for salvation through Christ, Christians have disagreed for centuries as to how best to understand the details of the salvation process and all related issues. Such disagreement should tell us that God allows Christians great flexibility of thought in matters of theology and doctrine. The history of Christianity reveals a rocky road of theological development over the centuries, a process that continues to this very day.
Since the canonized Scriptures form the foundation for Christian theology, the challenge for theologians and Christians in general is to carefully and objectively evaluate extant doctrinal perspectives within Christianity to determine how well such perspectives align themselves with the canonized Scriptures. This takes us back to the church historian, Bart Ehrman, who we discussed in part one of this series.
Professor Ehrman appears to believe the Biblical Scriptures are hopelessly flawed because of the thousands of scribal errors and apparent additions and subtractions of material he has identified in these Scriptures. He has concluded we cannot confidently view the Scriptures as God directed documents and seems to have further concluded these documents are only the product of human thought conditioned by the social, cultural, political and religious dynamics of the times in which Scriptural authors wrote what they wrote. Mr. Ehrman writes the following on page 7 of his book, Misquoting Jesus.
“What good is it to say that the autographs (original documents) were inspired? We don’t have the originals! We have only error-ridden copies, and the vast majority of these are centuries removed from the originals and different from them, evidently, in thousands of ways.”
Do the vast majority of copies of Scripture differ from the originals in thousands of ways? How can we know that the copies of the original Scriptural documents differ in thousands of ways? We don’t have any originals to compare them to. Therefore, Ehrman’s statement is superfluous. All we can do is compare copies with copies. Are the copies we have of the Scriptural documents error-ridden? There is little question thousands of errors can be identified when comparing copies of manuscripts. However, the great majority of such errors are spelling or grammatical in nature and have no impact on theological or doctrinal matters. Ehrman admits this on page 65 of his book.
“In fact, most of the changes found in our early Christian manuscripts have nothing to do with theology or ideology. Far and away the most change are the result of mistakes, pure and simple-slips of the pen, accidental omissions, inadvertent additions, misspelled words, blunders of one sort or another.”
On the one hand Ehrman indicates we can’t have confidence in the validity of the Biblical Scriptures because of thousands of scribal errors. On the other hand, he admits that most of the changes discovered are of little consequence as to theological or ideological conclusions derived from these Scriptures. Ehrman appears to be taking the position that if the Scriptures can’t be found to be inerrant, we can’t have any confidence in their over all validity. This is akin to throwing out the baby with the bath water.
In another section of his book, Ehrman writes that if God intended for us to have inerrant communication from Him in the form of written documents, He would have insured the inerrancy of not only the original documents but all the copies of those original documents that have come to be produced and have come down to us through the centuries. Since comparing copies with copies shows many differences, albeit often minor ones, the fact remains these copies are anything but errorless. Ehrman believes that since God chose not to insure inerrancy in the copies of the original documents, there is no reason to believe He facilitated the writing of inerrant original documents.
I agree with Ehrman on this point. God could have insured we have errorless documents all through Christian history. God could have insured there were no inconsistencies or contradictions in Scripture. For that matter, God could have insured all Biblical documents were crystal clear as to theology and doctrine. Since this is not the case, it is evident God did not intend to do it this way. Ehrman comes to this discussion with the preconceived idea that God intended for us to have inerrant Scripture and since this is not the case he concludes God had nothing to do with the writing of the Biblical Scriptures. He feels the Scriptures are nothing more than humanly produced documents reflecting human responses to events that may or may not have happened as recorded.
Denying supernatural involvement in the recording of the events seen in Scripture leads to a questioning of supernatural involvement in the events themselves which leads to questioning the veracity of the events as recorded. This is the end result of seeing the Scriptures as a purely human construct.
It is true the Scriptures are humanly produced documents. They were written by humans. What was written, however, was human response to extraordinary events, events that reflect supernatural involvement. While the recording of these events are not inerrant from the standpoint of there being absolute consistency between accounts, the very fact that there is multiple attestation to these events in the Scriptural record is evidence to these events having occurred. You could even say there is a certain level of inerrancy in Scripture from the standpoint that many events are attested to by different authors, all of whom would have had access to facts of the events they were writing about. Since there is multiple attestation to supernatural involvement in the events recorded, it is shorted sighted to conclude God was not involved in the events recorded by Scriptural authors.
God's involvement in such events equates with His Spirit being involved in the events and when writers of the Scriptures record such events, they were reacting to the Spirit of God as perceived in the events reported. They were responding to the Spirit of God bringing such events to their remembrance.
As previously discussed, there is every reason to believe the NT documents were all written prior to the A.D. 70 destruction of the temple and city of Jerusalem. Therefore, there was little time for myth and legend to develop regarding the Christ event. It is apparent the writers of the Gospels had access to information from Jesus, His mother, His brothers and sisters, and His disciples. Christ promised His disciples they would be given The Holy Spirit as a counselor to bring to remembrance what they had been taught. Therefore, there is every reason to believe the information they gathered, processed and reported was done so within the context of God’s Spirit indwelling them and being a dynamic in what they wrote. It must be understood, however, that the Spirit of God influences us. It doesn’t drive our behavior. It doesn’t make decisions for us. Therefore, the human element was always present in the writing of what became Biblical Scripture which would account for there being inconsistencies between the writers. Remember, no author of Scripture claims to have written inerrant material.
Luke reported there were many who had set out to write about things pertaining to the Christ event. The implication is that there were many accounts written about the Christ event. Since we only have the four Gospels that give an account of the life of Christ, it would appear other such documents were not passed down to us through the centuries and were lost to antiquity. Other documents that were passed down to us from early centuries of the Church and were included in early canons of Scripture were later excluded because of their failure to meet the three-fold criteria for continued inclusion. The documents that did come to be included in our present canon are there because they did meet the established criteria for inclusion. These documents were found to be the most authentic, and reliable reflections of the events and the theology of the time of Christ and the early Church.
I began part five of this series by asking whether the Biblical Scriptures are the word of God. To be the word of God the Scriptures have to reflect the thought of God. In the NT Scriptures the English for “word” is translated from the Greek word logos. Logos appears 330 times in the NT and is translated into English primarily as “word” or “saying.” Its basic meaning is “to speak.” This word is derived from the verb legein which means to “say or speak.” It can also mean “reason or mind.” To look upon the Scriptures as the word of God is to see them as the very mind of God.
To see the Biblical Scriptures as the word of God is to see them as the very mind of God in print. Since the Scriptural writers were documenting events attributed to God, such documentation reflected the mind of God. The very thoughts and purposes of God were present in the events and activities the Scriptural authors wrote about. However, the fact there are inconsistencies in the Scriptural record tells us God did not micro managed what was written. I believe Christian apologists open themselves up to ridicule by insisting on absolute Scriptural inerrancy when it is evident such inerrancy does not exist. As already discussed in this series, reliability of the spoken or written word does not require inerrancy. We place faith in many spoken and written communications without demanding or expecting such communications to be inerrant.
God has allowed scribal error, insertions of false material, doctrinal predispositions, and even political pressure to influence what is found in the copies of copies we have of the original Scriptural documents. Because we have copies of copies and no original documents, the methodology called “textual criticism” is an important tool in Biblical Studies. Textual criticism does serve to identify scribal errors, unauthentic material and other irregularities in Scripture. However, a problem arises when those who use this method to identify Scriptural irregularities conclude the whole of Scripture can’t be trusted because of these irregularities.