Sunday, 22 November 2009
Out of the Theological closet: I do not ascribe the Bible with the title 'infallible', or the like.
Before I get too deep I would like to make a couple of points through which you may interpret this, and subsequent posts: 1) I belief the Bible is important to Christians and is a gift of God which was breathed of him. 2) This belief is relatively new and many who know me will know the fervour with which I defended Infallibility in the past. 3) All of these 5 heterodox beliefs that I am commenting on (including this one) came whilst I believed in the infallibility of scripture. With that said, let us continue.
Belief in Infallibility seems to be a defining point of Evangelicalism. If you can remember my post on Doctrinal Basis you will hopefully remember my annoyance at how many Doctrinal Basis put the belief in the Bible (whatever that belief may be; though usually infallibility) before any other belief e.g. Christ. Not that it isn’t an important doctrine but rather that we must put things into perspective. Christians are not those, as is often said, who follow the Bible but rather those that follow Christ! The Bible has a very important place in our following Christ but is subservient to it. I.e. We read the Bible as we are followers of Christ, not the other way around!
Let me give you a little more background to how I am where I am. As I've already said I held inerrancy whilst I was coming to this conclusion and it is not something I've come to lightly, I promise you. I was looking at the prophecies in Ezekiel concerning the fate of Tyre (Ezek 26; 29). Problems with it were mentioned in passing in a comment of someone’s blog so I decided to look them up. I suggest you go and read them for yourself if you’re not sure what they say but a quick recap follows. It is part of Ezekiel’s oracles against the nations. In 26 Ezekiel reports that God talks about how Tyre is mocking the downfall of Jerusalem. God declares that he is the enemy of Tyre and will utterly destroy it through Nebuchadnezzar leaving just a bare rock. In 29 we read the God is now giving Egypt to Nebuchadnezzar because he fought Tyre yet neither he nor his army got anything for it. The Problems we have is that we know from history that 1) Nebuchadnezzar never destroyed the City of Tyre (that is on the Island, despite trying), only the coastal Tyre, and 2) that Nebuchadnezzar only, at best, gained control of part of Egypt temporarily (although this is less of a problem I feel).
This is not to say that there are no possible answers to this critique. The most common are that later on, Alexander the Great fulfilled this prophecy by conquering Tyre and destroying it. What I found however is that I wasn't letting the text speak for itself, nor for God to speak, but rather I was placing my belief in Infallibility of Scripture over and against the truth. To me the text clearly states that it is Nebuchadnezzar that would do the conquering, anything else is to stretch the text. It is also held that perhaps this is a prophecy about the return of Christ and the ultimate judgement of nations. This however seems unlikely as it is girded in the middle of prophecies which talk of literal events in time. I had to decide where I stood on this matter and I concluded that from what we know of the text and of history that I could not, with a clear conscience, hold that this passage was without any doubt correct. I had to abandon what I had always been taught about the Bible. I had to start again.
I started with the concept of whether the Bible has to be infallible for it to be any use to the believer. To be honest I had started asking this before I came to this position, brought on by questioning those who held what I now hold. I concluded that the answer was no. The Bible no-where calls itself perfect and infallible but is rather something we use to describe what had been observed by some. I also concluded no-where is it said that a believer must believe the Bible to be perfect to be a believer. In fact there is nothing that one must hold in regard to the Bible for one to be considered a Christian.
I took a closer look at the traditional passage people use for upholding this doctrine: 2 Tim 3: 16-17. "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." Scripture is therefore useful for us. It seems a rather weak word to use if it was perfect. It is also quite odd, if it were perfect and it was a required doctrine, that Paul (or for that matter, Jesus) didn't make more of a point of it. In the context he was instructing Timothy, giving him last advice, urging that he stick to sound doctrine. If it were that important one would expect that here, of all places, he would say so. I often get the idea from what people say of the Bible that it is either a part of the God-head to be worshipped (see sermon by Steve Anderson) or something akin to the Qu'ran where God personally wrote every word. It just isn't true! We know that fallible, finite mankind wrote the Bible and believe that God has inspired what they wrote.
I think it is also worth mentioning here where the Bible gets it's authority from. I think we often treat the Bible like a book of magic spells when in fact it is just a book. The power comes from the living God behind the book. I have in the past written of the fact that the Word of God is Jesus and not (innately) the Bible (see here).
I think the biggest problem is that of a syllogism: 1) God is perfect, 2) the Bible is from god, 3) therefore the Bible must be perfect. I used to think this too but I feel that it is actually erroneous. It would be the same as saying: 1) God is perfect, 2) mankind is from God, 3) therefore mankind is perfect. We know this not to be true, so why are we so convinced by the first syllogism and not the second? I now hold to a form of Divine Accommodationism: That God uses the imperfect to express the perfect. We hold that when it comes to the church yet seem to struggle when it comes to scripture. How can the finite fully express the infinite?
I'm not saying that the Bible definitely isn't perfect. I am open to being proved wrong as new evidence is brought forth. Perhaps the early sources we have about Tyre are incorrect and we may find something that proves that the Bible was right. If so then great, I have no problem with that at all! However I feel it rather dangerous to label the Bible beyond what it claims for itself; that is God-breathed. Till then I think that it is better to stick to what we definitely know about the Bible, that it is "useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work."
I think that will do for now but before I go I must thank 3 people in particular for their support in this matter: Firstly is Mick Hough, the rector of my local church (St. Peter's, Woodmansterne). I had only just moved to the area when I started struggling with this concept. I met with Mick, who didn't know me, and talked about where I was. Thank you Mick for your support. Secondly I also Must thank Robin Parry of Theological Scribbles whom furnished me with a list of helpful books. Lastly I wish to thank James Hall, a friend of mine, who often puts up with my incomprehensible blathering as I search for the truth. This is not to say that they hold the same views as me, or nor, but rather they were a blessed light in a dark time. Thank you.
Till Next Time!
Thanks to Letters from Camp Krusty for the image.