ARE THE BIBLICAL SCRIPTURES RELIABLE? PART THREE
Just how did the information recorded in this collection of documents we call the Bible come to be?
Many believe what Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy about Scripture being “inspired” or “God breathed” is evidence that Biblical Scripture came to be as a result of God directly orchestrating and managing the thoughts of Scriptural authors.
2 Timothy 3:16: All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness (KJV).
All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (NIV).
Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness (ASV).
The English word scripture is from the Latin scriptura which means "to write or a thing written." Scriptura is derived from the Greek word graphe which in the Greek means "writings or a thing written." The Greek word gramma, is also translated into the English word scripture which in the Greek means, “that which has been written.” Scripture simply means something written. The word scripture has no intrinsic meaning of being sacred or holy. This word can be applied to any written document. Biblical Scripture (Biblical writings) came to be identified as writing worthy of reverence and instructive of the things of God. Paul refers to the OT narrative as Holy Scripture. The English word “holy” is translated from several Greek words that have the general meaning of something dedicated or consecrated to God and worthy of reverence.
2 Timothy 3:15: and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
Romans 1:1-2: Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God-- the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures.
We see Jesus relating to the OT Scriptures as presenting truthful history. We see Jesus making a number of statements that show He believed in the reality of what the OT Scriptures were saying. He cites Jonah in the belly of the great fish, alludes to the creation of Adam and Eve, the Cain and Able event and Noah and the flood. Jesus obviously believed in the validity of the OT.
Matthew 12:40: For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
Matthew 19:4-5: "Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator `made them male and female,' and said, `For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh' ?
Matthew 23:35: And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah....
Luke 17:26:27: "Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.
Luke 20:37: But in the account of the bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord `the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.'
When Paul tells Timothy the Scriptures are God breathed (2 Timothy 3:16), he is talking about writings worthy of reverence that can be used to instruct. What does he mean by saying Scripture is God breathed or inspired by God? The word translated “God breathed” or “inspired,” is taken from the Greek word Theopneustos. Theopneustos is a compound word consisting of Theos which means God and pneuma which is the Greek word translated as spirit, breathe and wind in the NT. So how are we to understand this word?
Translation involves determination of how a word in one language can best be understood in another language. Translators often rely on how the word is used in the context of other literature of the time and/or how it is used in other parts of the literature being translated. In the case of Theopneustos, it appears only this once in the NT and is not found in other Greek literature of the first century. There is no equivalent word in the Hebrew Scriptures. Therefore, it has been difficult to determine exactly what Theopneustos means.
There has been considerable scholarly discussion as to the grammatical construction of Theopneustos and the entire Greek phrase, pasa graphe theopneustos which the NIV and some other translations render as “All scripture is God-breathed.” The Latin Vulgate translates the Greek Theopneustos into the Latin divinitus inspirita which is translated into the English as “divinely inspired.” It appears some renderings, such as the KJV, used the Latin translation of Theopneustos. Bullinger, in his ”Companion Bible” footnotes “inspired,” pointing out that this English word means to breath in and not breath out as readers often assume. Scholars feel “God breathed” is a more accurate interpretation of Theopneustos and have avoided the Latin interpretation.
Some scholars see pasa graphe theopneustos as denoting how Scripture is received by those who hear it rather than how it came to be. This approach is supported by no less an authority than Professor Hermann Cremer, author of “Biblico-theological Lexicon.” Professor Cremer has concluded that Theopneustos does not relate to the origin of Scripture but to how it is received by the reader and how it affects the reader.
Some feel this view is more harmonious with the context of Paul’s letter to Timothy. In verse 14 and 15, Paul admonishes Timothy to continue in those things he has learned (taken in) and how from his youth he has known the Holy Scriptures. In verse 16 he tells Timothy the Scriptures he has received from his youth are profitable. In this whole section of Paul’s letter, he appears to be dealing with the receiving of Scripture and not how it came to be written. While questions remain as to what Paul meant by his use of theopneustos, it is clear Paul views the OT Scriptures as holy and able to make one wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
In 2 Pet 1:21, Peter says, “prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” What does it mean to be carried along by the Holy Spirit? Peter is dealing specifically with prophecy (the Greek implies predictive utterances) in this passage. Are we to understand from what Peter wrote that God directly micro managed the thoughts of prophetic writers? Does what Peter wrote about being carried along by the Holy Spirit apply to non-prophetic Scripture?
Let us again consider the question of just how it was that the Scriptures came to be. Did God directly manage the thoughts of Scriptural writers so that what they wrote inerrantly reflected the mind of God? If that is the case, what about writings such as the Shepherd of Hermas or the Epistle of Barnabas that were considered "inspired Scripture" by many early Christians and some church leaders. These documents were later excluded from that group of documents that came to be recognized as canonical. When such documents became excluded from the canon, was it because such documents were determined to not be inspired by God after all? Can non-canonical documents be considered inspired by God?
For example, are the additional canonical books of the Catholic Bible, referred to as the apocrypha, God directed writings? Catholics certainly think so. Is the book of Enoch presently found in the Ethiopian cannon a God inspired document? Ethiopian Christians certainly think so.
The answer to this apparent dilemma may be in seeing Scriptural writings as coming to be, not through God micro managing the thoughts of Scriptural authors, but Scriptural writers responding to experiencing the things of God in a variety of ways and recording their experience in writing. When looking at the Scriptures as a whole, it is apparent when Paul and Peter speak of God’s involvement in the writing of Scripture, they are not saying that God simply poured information into the writer’s heads and the writers were nothing more than robotic scribes recording what was poured into their heads. It would appear the Scriptures were written more as a response to what writers experienced.
If we are to believe that God micro managed what is written in Scripture, we are faced with some serious problems. For example, Matthew quotes Jesus as using the phrase "kingdom of heaven" 31 times in his Gospel. Yet when you look at these same quotes of Jesus in the Gospel's of Mark, Luke and John, these authors have Jesus saying "kingdom of God." So what did Jesus say? Was it kingdom of heaven or kingdom of God? Since only Matthew, among the NT authors, uses the phrase "kingdom of heaven" in his quotes of Jesus, it would appear Jesus used the phrase "kingdom of God" and Matthew had some personal reason for substituting the phrase "kingdom of heaven" for "kingdom of God."
If this is the case, isn't Matthew, by using the phrase "kingdom of heaven," putting words in Jesus' month? Was Matthew "inspired" to quote Jesus as saying "kingdom of heaven" while the other Gospel writers were "inspired" to quote Jesus as saying "Kingdom of God"? I don't think Jesus was talking our of two sides of His mouth. The dilemma presented here for the traditional view of inspiration of the Scriptures should be apparent.
As we have seen, there is some question as to whether Theopneustos has to do with how the Scriptures are given or has to do with how they are received. The Latin’s interrupted Theopneustos as “inspire.” This word is commonly associated with our response to what we experience. Inspire literally means to breathe in. We are inspired by a beautiful sunrise or sunset. We are inspired by a musical composition or a piece of fine art. We are inspired by beautiful flowers or a star lit night. When we say we are inspired, what we are saying is that we are experiencing certain awe and reverence toward that which we are taking in. When it is said that Scripture is given by inspiration of God, could it mean Scripture was written in response to the things of God being experienced by those who set such things in writing?
Luke 1:1-3: Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus.
Luke says that many had undertaken to draw up an account of the Christ event. We have only four accounts that became part of the Bible. We call them the “Gospels.” Luke implies, however, that there were many accounts drawn up regarding the Christ event. We don’t have any of those others accounts. Does the fact such accounts were not preserved make them any less inspired? Is inspiration a direct channeling of divine thoughts into the head of human subjects or is it human response to things of divine origin?
Luke says information about the Christ event was handed down by those who were eyewitnesses, individuals who apparently had spent time with Christ. Luke shows he carefully investigated everything from the beginning and than proceeded to write a report to his friend Theophilus. There is nothing here to suggest what Luke wrote was supernaturally poured into his head. There is no indication given that God was micro managing the research Luke did or directly influencing what he choose to write. All indications are that Luke simply gathered information, examined it for validity and wrote it down as a report to his friend Theophilus.
Can we say Luke was inspired? Yes we can. What he discovered in his research inspired him greatly. All indications are that inspiration involves our taking in of the things of God and reacting to them with great reverence and then ordering our lives accordingly. The events and information recorded in Scripture are the recorded responses of what the writers of such information experienced.
To respond to the things of God is to experience Theopneustos. As already discussed, this Greek word used by Paul in telling Timothy how Scripture came to be shows Scripture came to be by the breath of God. The breath of God is associated with the Spirit of God throughout Scripture. As discussed above, Theopneustos is a compound word consisting of Theos which means God and pneuma which is the Greek word translated as spirit, breathe and wind in the NT. When Paul writes of the Scriptures being given by Theopneustos, he is saying the Spirit of God is involved in the writing of Scripture. How is the Spirit of God involved in the writing of Scripture?
The approach of Luke in writing an account of the Christ event for his friend Theophilus is very instructive in providing us with insight as to how the Spirit of God is involved in the writing of much of the Biblical Scriptures. Much of Scripture involves the recording of past events. The recording of past events is historical writing. What Luke did is precisely what any historian does. A historian gathers information by first talking to eyewitness if available. He then talks to others who are familiar with the events he is writing about. He studies the works of others who have written about the same events.He then puts it all together and proceeds to write his own account. Luke simply took information available to him and wrote his own history.
In gathering information for his Gospel, Luke was responding to the Spirit of God as manifested in the events he was recording. We must remember that the Spirit of God is everywhere.
When David wrote the Psalms extolling the creative works of God, was David writing because God was directly manipulating his thoughts or was David simply responding to his experience of the Spirit of God as seen in the creation all around him and putting that response into writing? When Luke wrote his Gospel and the Book of Acts, was God micro managing his thoughts or was Luke simply responding in awe and reverence to the manifestation of God's Spirit as seen in the events associated with Christ which Luke had come to experience as he gathered information which led him to write his own account.
As discussed earlier, there is every reason to believe that the authors of NT documents are the authors of record. These authors wrote their material in close proximity to the events and issues they write about. The Gospels and Acts were written shortly after the events they report. The Epistles and the Revelation are addressed to first century congregations and Christians at large of the developing Christian community. There is every reason to believe these documents were written in the first century as previously discussed.
It must be remembered that much of Scripture is historical in nature and is a written reflection of how events were perceived by the writer and/or a reflection of the material the writer used to produce his document. In recording the basic events of the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus, the NT writers are in agreement. When it comes to some of the details of these events, there is some variation in what is reported. This variation in detail can be found throughout the Scriptures and must be accounted for on the basis of the human element that’s involved in the writing of these documents. This variation in detail also provides greater attestation to the events reported as it reflects the perspective of different authors who are not in collusion as to detail.
When writers of Scripture wrote their letters, gospels, prophecies and historical accounts, there is nothing to indicate that these writers foresaw that someday their writings were going to be collected, canonized and considered inerrant, infallible documents. When Peter referred to some letters of Paul as Scripture, did Peter believe what Paul wrote was inerrant, infallible divinely orchestrated statements?
2 Peter 3:15-16: Bear in mind that our Lord's patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, (Greek: graphe) to their own destruction.
Did Peter believe God directly implanted in Paul’s mind what to write in these letters and therefore they were of inerrant divine origin and authority? He says Paul wrote things hard to understand. Was God manipulating the thoughts of Paul to write things hard to understand? There is nothing in the context of this passage to show that Peter is treating Paul’s letters as robotically written as God poured information into Paul’s head including things hard to understand. Instead, we see Peter saying that Paul wrote “with the wisdom that God gave Him.”
The Scriptures clearly show God, through His Spirit, provides wisdom, understanding and knowledge. The Scriptures do not show God micro managing our thoughts through His Spirit. As Christians, our thoughts are influenced by the Spirit of God. What we do with that influence is up to us. Biblical authors were influenced by the Spirit of God as they wrote what they wrote. But their own thought processes were much involved with what they wrote.
When Peter writes that Paul writes things hard to understand this wasn’t because God inspired Paul to write in such manner. Paul was a well trained scholar and at times wrote like one. Yet because Paul was in tune with the things of God, we can be assured what Paul wrote reflected the mind of God. This does not mean that everything Paul wrote reflected the absolute will of God for all time.
For example, Christians often look at Paul’s letters in the NT and conclude what is written in these letters is God speaking to us today. In reality, however, Paul is often dealing with issues and problems pertinent to his contemporaries and pertinent to first century culture with little if any direct relevance to us today. We must remember that when we read letters written to Paul’s contemporaries we are reading someone else’s mail.
For example, eating meats sacrificed to idols is not an issue today. It was a major issue in the NT church. Paul had to deal with it. Paul initially dealt with it one way and later dealt with it a different way. Initially Paul instructed it was not proper to eat meat sacrificed to idols and later He indicated it didn’t really matter. Was God telling Paul to change his thinking or was Paul simply responding to circumstances and a change in understanding relative to this issue.
Paul’s instructions relative to whether people should or should not marry were tied to the coming war with Rome and Nero’s persecution of the church, dynamics that are not a factor today. Even such things as women speaking in the church was tied to customs that came out of Jewish law which would not be applicable to the church today but were a big issue in the first century church which was in the process of moving from the Old to the New Covenant.
Apostle Paul was very adamant about women not speaking in church (See 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy: 2:11-12). Today women are involved in leadership and speaking roles in many Christian fellowships. Does this mean that all these fellowships are in violation of God’s will? Is it still a shame for a man to have long hair? Paul taught that it was in the first century (1 Corinthians 11:14). Is a man today in violation of God’s will if he has long hair? Was he in violation of God’s will by having long hair in the first century or was this just something that was an issue in Paul’s mind because of certain circumstances in Paul’s day?
A careful reading of Paul’s first letter to the Church at Corinth shows that at times Paul is reflecting the teachings of Christ and at other times he is speaking his own mind on an issue.
I Corinthians 7:10-12: “To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife. To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her.’
Paul continues in this chapter to make a variety of recommendations relative to marriage involving believers and unbelievers, those engaged to be married and virgins.
Some may argue that even when Paul is speaking his own mind, he is still being led by God’s Spirit and therefore it is really God speaking. Paul concludes his comments about marriage in this chapter by saying he felt he had the Spirit of God (verse 40). Having the Holy Spirit does provide guidance in arriving at decisions pertaining to specific circumstances extant at the time. Many Christians believe the Spirit of God leads them in decision making. This does not guarantee their decision making is perfect as experience clearly shows. Many other dynamics play a role in making a decision.
When reading through the entire seventh chapter of 1 Corinthians seven, it is apparent Paul made the recommendations about marriage he did because of the troubled times in which they were living and the anticipated Roman persecution and calamity upon Israel. While what Paul said to the Corinthian’s about marriage may provide guidelines for Christians today, his recommendations would not necessarily be applicable in the same way today because the social, cultural and political climate is different from what was true during the time of the first century Roman Empire.
While it is true we can learn much from history, it isn’t true what has happened in the past should be necessarily used to make decisions in the present. New circumstances and dynamics must always be taken into consideration. Scriptural context must be very carefully evaluated to determine what is still applicable and what may only have been applicable to the time in which a letter or a historical document was written. It is necessary to examine the cultural, social, political and religious dynamics extant at the time Scriptural documents were written and from there determine whether what is written in such documents has application in the here and now.
Audience relevance must always be considered when reading the Scriptures. We must always ask who was being addressed and what meaning did what was said and written have to those hearing or reading what was presented. We must then determine if what was presented has relevance only to those receiving the information at the time or does such information have relevance to us as well. In part four of this series we will deal with the issue of Scriptural inerrancy.