Interpreting the Scriptures (Part 5)

Privileged elite interpreters & self-perpetuating systems

The Reformation was about taking authority away from a man and giving it to a book. The Catholics could control their masses through the doctrine of papal infallibility, the Protestants through the doctrine of Bible inerrancy. – Glenn Steers

Church leaders in the 1500s (like many church leaders today) did not think the average christian was capable of  understanding the scriptures. They felt christians needed priests to explain to them what God demands of them.

Nowadays Christians are allowed to read bibles, but “leaders” think they need to be given “lenses” (basically doctrinal boundaries) through which to interpret the scriptures. This is the purpose of bible colleges and seminaries – not teaching people to ask questions and find their own answers, but rather teaching their own brand of theology.

As Christians, we are taught by our leaders to believe certain ideas and behave in certain ways. We are also encouraged to read our Bibles. But we are conditioned to read the Bible with the lens handed to us by the Christian tradition to which we belong. We are taught to obey our denomination (or movement) and never challenge what it teaches. – Frank Viola

To think that there are special people who are masters of discovering the “correct interpretation,” we have to assume that a “correct interpretation” exists. What if there is no correct interpretation? What if God only intends to dialog with us through our reading of bibles, not to reveal truth through correct interpretation?

But no scholars or seminarians say this kind of stuff!

Actually, there are plenty of them who do. But, yes, it’s kind of difficult for many to do so because it could mean that they lose their job! No more need for “bible teachers.” It is a circular and self-perpetuating system to validate their own profit-generating practices.

The sacredness of the bible is the basis for seminaries and bible colleges. It would be immensely difficult for people there to accept that the scriptures are not special in the way they think it is because it would make their life-long devotion to a book look silly.

In other words, they may have personal reasons for supporting the religious view of bibles.

Thus, support for the sacredness of bibles is also a circular; the scriptures validate seminaries, and seminaries validate the scriptures.

Ultimately, whether intentionally or not, doctrines about bibles (such as inerrancy, inspiration, and authority) have been used to give power to those with knowledge. They become the arbiters of truth, for through their knowledge of the scriptures, they have the power to rightly discern.

But my trust in the scripture’s authority is not only based on reason but on experience as well. I’ve experienced that what it says is true, therefore I know it’s true.

But remember, that’s what you’ve been told ever since you became a christian. You were told that God speaks to you through the scriptures, that it is God’s word, etc. So you believed that. And our beliefs affect our experiences. This is called confirmation bias.

God will speak to you through whatever. So if you spend a bunch of time reading bibles, then he will speak to you through that regardless of whether it really is inerrant, inspired, authoritative, etc. How do you know that if you had been told that some other books were sacred that you wouldn’t have had similar experiences with those books (and hence think they were sacred)? This is not to say that all books are equally valuable; I’m simply pointing out that anyone’s belief in anything is necessarily affected by subjective bias.

Ultimately, biblical interpretation is something not for qualified individuals but for communities.

It can seem as if biblical scholars are the privileged interpreters of scripture. They alone can determine what the Bible means. But the Bible was written for believing communities, not critics, and real biblical interpretation happens when scripture does something to such a community. When the church places special emphasis on an academic and critical approach to scripture, it easily sets up a new type of priestly control of the Christian community by a guild of experts whose work is authoritarian, not in the sense that it cannot be questioned, but in the sense that it is the privileged responsibility of an elite. – John Goldingay

We rely on the witness of the church through time (with the hermeneutical trajectory set by the apostles as a central component), as well as the wisdom of the church in our time – both narrowly considered as a congregation, denomination, or larger tradition and more broadly considered as a global reality, all of which involves the direct involvement of the Spirit of God. Biblical interpretation is not merely a task that individuals perform: it is something that grows out of our participation in the family of God in the broadest sense possible. – Peter Enns

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Mistakes in the Scriptures

“It is one of the advantages of the anthropology that I have been trying to set out that, by insisting on human alterity rather than some supposed imbued transcendental relation to God as constitutive of what it means to be human, it permits us to consider divine revelation as a process of human discovery. That is to say, it is not frightened of the utterly contingent, human, historical process by which cultures arose, and declined, events occurred, peoples were formed, previous events were reinterpreted, the texts themselves edited and reedited. It is not as though divine revelation needs somehow to be protected from all such happenings, in order really to be divine revelation.” – James Alison

Many people think that to concede that the scriptures contain errors (especially theological ones) would be a major problem because we would then not know how to determine what is true and what is not. (I have already written elsewhere how I don’t think the scriptures can be used objectively as an absolute basis for truth.)

When revelation is understood as progressive, however, mistakes cease to be problematic.

To consider errors as problematic implicitly assumes that errors are necessarily bad, that the purpose of the scriptures is to communicate true propositions, and thus to be factually accurate (at least theologically).

When the OT was written, recording royal history was a biased endeavor, and unashamedly so. For example, the number of men in a king’s army were often exaggerated to make the king look good, or kings would be portrayed as more benevolent than they actually were. But this was in fact what was considered to be good history (in stark contrast to today, where factually accuracy is considered to be the only thing of value).

So why should we assume that history in the OT wasn’t? Indeed, we would need good reasons to think so since that would be an anomaly. Who’s to say that unbiased, objective history is the best kind of history, anyways?

Regardless, there is no such thing as a completely unbiased and objective recording of history; anything written down is necessarily filtered through the subjective experience of the writer. For example, communicating historical events requires the communicator to select what to mention and what not to mention. You can’t say everything; there’s just too much. Thus, they will say only those things that are important to the point they want to get across. Further, those things will be said in such a way that it drives their point home, even if that may cause it to deviate from a more factually accurate description of events.

All that to say, the people who wrote the OT had no problem with not getting their facts straight, so perhaps we shouldn’t either. In fact, maybe it would do us good to quit going to bibles to tell us factual propositions. After all, it is by now well-known that the scriptures contain hundreds of inconsistencies and contradictions if they are read as a textbook of truth statements. Just try googling “contradictions in bible.”

The inspiration of the scriptures does not need to be understood as God temporarily influencing authors to be infallible and letting them be fallible human beings again when the writing was finished.

Why do we assume that, unless it is clearly declared to be a mistake, an action or belief recorded in the scriptures is good, right, and true? Why do we treat Acts, for example, as a historical record of things that people did right, even though it definitely contains some people’s mistakes (e.g. Ananias and Sapphira)? Just because it is recorded that someone, regardless of their status (apostle, prophet, believer, etc.), did something doesn’t mean that the thing they did was in accordance with God’s will. It’s not immediately obvious what things were good and right and which were evil and bad.

James is a case in point:

It’s interesting that the council of Jerusalem (Acts chapter 15) reveals to us that at this point in the early church’s life only Paul and Barnabas actually understood the gospel of grace, apart from the old covenant law, in its correct understanding. It was through this meeting we read all the other apostles and leaders accepted their error and agreed the good news truly was complete grace, apart from also keeping the law mixed in.

James was one of the men there who accepted he was in error. Now, it is also historically believed that James wrote his letter at least one or two years before this meeting. That means when James wrote his letter, he had a mixed theology and was still in error in his understanding of what grace truly was. Yet, his misunderstandings still made it into the Bible through his letter.

Next time you read the book of James think about this. It is entirely possible God allowed his letter into the Bible to give us a pattern of what a preacher with a mixed covenant theology would sound like? Very little about Christ.

Everything about works. No Holy Spirit. No flow of thoughts about God’s love. Fear being used to prove a point. Condemnation for not believing enough etc. – Mick Mooney

James, and every other biblical author, were on journeys of growth even when they penned their writings, and their understanding of reality was surely riddled with errors (as is ours). What they wrote should be interpreted accordingly.

Everything written in the scriptures does not need to be (and should not be) taken at face value. We can’t take everything stated as it is, assume it is good, apply it to ourselves, and model what we do after it. We can’t assume that God wishes us to do exactly what the people of the past did or think the way they thought. We can’t even assume that the underlying principles of what God told them to do apply to us, because those may be different too. What may not have been a mistake for them may be a mistake for us, and vice versa. Context, both of the biblical times and our current age, must always be taken into consideration.

The scriptures are a witness to how certain individuals interpreted God revealing himself to them in the past. When reading the scriptures we need to keep in mind that specific people wrote to specific groups of people who were experiencing specific things.

So how do we discern between what is true and what is not? Look to the perfect image of God, Jesus, and ask Holy Spirit. “Examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).

*****

Also see:

Symphony of Reflection (by Andre Rabe)
http://hearhim.net/wordpress/2013/11/20/part-3-symphony-of-reflection/

The Myth of Literal Translation

translation

In the Western world the term “literal” is used to refer to the way an expression is supposed to be understood. As translator David Bellos explains, “The distinction between the literal and figurative meanings of words has been at the heart of Western education for more than two millennia. The literal meaning of an expression is supposed to be its meaning prior to any act of interpretation, its natural, given, standard, shared, neutral, plain meaning.”

A few years ago I had a slight obsession with bible translations and finding the most “literal” ones. In my mind this meant translations that were translated word-for-word as much as possible. I held that this type of translation retained the original meaning, and therefore truth, to the highest degree without translators’ own interpretations and theologies getting in the way.

This was probably a result of my often hearing christians say that “we need to read the scriptures literally unless it is impossible to do so” (figurative interpretation was generally considered a bad thing, unless it was necessary to get a passage to conform to “orthodox doctrine”).

A simple observation, however, will reveal the absurdity of this way of thinking.

Many Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic (the languages the scriptures were written in) words and phrases have no equivalent to enable a word-for-word translation. For example, the scriptures contain about 200 different kinds (and even more occurrences) of figures of speech that, when translated literally, do not communicate the intended meaning. Some words and phrases found in biblical languages are so foreign to modern languages and cultures that, to truly understand their usage, we need a whole paragraph explaining their meaning. This is never done, however, because it would make reading the scriptures rough and tedious (and sales would decline). (There are “study bibles” containing notes, but these are hardly sufficient to explain the wide range of words, idioms, parables, etc., and most often no explanation is given anyways, as if the literal meaning communicates the intended meaning.)

The early church didn’t have a fixed theological language; they created it as they spoke and wrote. Yet this was not a linear process since even within a single language, sentences and even words can mean different things to different people. Thus pretending biblical words in their original language are always used with the same meaning across the Old and New Testaments is naive and yields inaccurate understandings. Inversely, even if a word is found in two separate passages in a translation, it often will have been translated from different words in the original language, helping to confuse readers and distancing them from comprehending the text.

Our understanding of expressions (including individual words) are initially (at least) formed through interpretation; we hear a person say something, interpret what they meant by it, then attach some meaning to it. As time passes and we experience expressions being used more, we refine our understanding of their meaning. Hence, a “literal” meaning of an expression prior to any act of interpretation varies at best and is unlikely to exist.

Therefore, the idea that we should read the scriptures as literally as possible, except where it is “obviously” (which is completely subjective) figurative, is ridiculous.

David Bellos writes, “…all that is actually meant by calling something a literal translation is a version that preserves meaning in grammatical forms appropriate to the language of the translation.” But since each language has different grammars, the meaning will not be perceived the same. This is true even if there were perfect equivalents for every word.

We need to free ourselves from traditional assumptions underlying our understanding of language, such as the following (which cognitive linguistics consider to be false):

  1. Metaphors are figurative ways of stating what could otherwise better be said literally.
  2. Definitions and conventional everyday language are literal.
  3. Only literal language can be true or false.

When you allow yourself to read the scriptures with this kind of freedom, you’re eyes will be opened to understand them in new and more accurate ways.

*****

Also see:

The point of the scriptures is not literal truth
http://robbellcom.tumblr.com/post/69818535098/what-is-the-bible-part-23-why-this-library-parta

Hyperbole in the scriptures
http://www.tentmaker.org/Biblematters/hyperbole.htm

Are the Scriptures Authoritative?

God in bible

biblicalI want to challenge the idea that the scriptures are the final authority on matters of practice and faith. (So in this post I will mainly be referring to people who believe that.)

What’s your basis for truth?

Most christians will probably say “the bible!” (although what they really mean is their interpretation of the bible).

But why do you trust the scriptures in the first place? Because someone told you you should. But why did they? Because someone told them they should. We can trace this tradition all the way back to a limited group of “elite” early church fathers. So you value their opinion regarding their choice of scriptures and use those scriptures to determine your theology.

Ironically, however, the early church believers chose the writings that aligned well with the theology they already held. They didn’t, like is commonly done today, go to the scriptures to determine their theology. It was the complete opposite. (I’ve written about this in greater detail here.) Furthermore, as scribes made copies of the scriptures they changed what was written to match up with their own theology (see Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why by Bart Ehrman).

Most christians consider belief in a divinely authoritative bible a necessary belief to be considered an “insider.” But no biblical author claims that the scriptures are the source of truth, only Jesus, and the church as its pillar. It is not even included in any way in the creeds of the early church. The early church did, however, often refer to the scriptures. This tells us that the scriptures had value to the early church, but it wasn’t authoritative (until a few people said it was hundreds of years later).

The term “the scriptures” sounds very “holy”; in out time it definitely carries the connotation of embodying truth and being authoritative. In the Greek, however, it just means “writings.” So when 2 Peter 3:16 calls Paul’s epistles “other scriptures” it just means “other writings,” which doesn’t necessarily refer to sacred texts but writings that are read publicly in church gatherings. (The Jews did not consider all of their writings in their “scriptures” to be of equal value. In particular, they considered everything other than the Torah to be merely commentary on and subject to the Torah.)

GodInTheBoxThe scriptures have a lot to say about authority, but not once is authority ascribed to the scriptures themselves. Rather, it is consistently ascribed to Jesus.

Perhaps we can speak of Paul’s letters as being authoritative, but only in reference to the people to whom they were written; it was the “word of God” for those churches at those times. Paul didn’t claim authority over churches in which he hadn’t been the original sharer of the Gospel. There is no compelling reason to think that what God said through Paul to churches at that time was meant for all churches throughout the ages. God spoke to specific people in a specific situations, which is something he still does.

Therefore, we can learn from Paul’s writings, but they don’t have authority over us like they did for his original recipients. Yes, we can learn from what God did in the past, but God does different things in different situations at different times. The same is true today – God speaking through someone by the Holy Spirit is the word of God for the people it is intended for (while not neglecting to test the word by Holy Spirit).

The idea that the scriptures are the only authority stems from the mindset of the Reformation in which there was a major reaction against any kind of human authority in the church when it came to doctrine. Protestants wanted something more stable than fickle human beings, so they chose the scriptures.

When someone decides their basis for truth (for example, a combination of the scriptures, history, experience, and current community), it will merely be their opinion rather than something that can be argued to apply to all people. In other words, it will be a personal belief. Contrary to the hopes of Protestants in the Reformation, it is impossible to remove all subjectivity and have a common, fully objective basis for truth. Truth is a person (according to the scriptures, at least), and a person is experienced, which is necessarily subjective.

There’s a reason why Jesus (and not the scriptures) is called the “Word of God” in the scriptures; he (and not the scriptures) is the greatest revelation of who God is. When we instead deem the scriptures to be the “Word of God” (or even the “word of God”) we turn the scriptures into a puzzle-book of secret gnostic wisdom or a book of true answers to dogmatic and ethical questions. But that is backwards.

Bibles do not reveal truth about God; God reveals truth in bibles.

I find it funny when people claim that “anything God says will line up with the scriptures.” I used to say that all the time (and wholeheartedly believed it, too!), but I have become intellectually honest enough with myself to the point where I can ask, says who? The scriptures themselves don’t say that; therefore by the claim’s own logic God did not say that because it actually says to test things by Holy Spirit, not by “the Holy Bible.” This is merely a tradition of man that artificially limits what God can say (although only in people’s minds). The method for discerning truth that is demonstrated and taught throughout the New Testament is not to check if it says so in the scriptures, but communication with Holy Spirit and the handing down of the tradition of the apostles (of which adding canonical writings or sacred texts is not a part).

truth everywhereUltimately, bibles cannot escape subjectivity and be used in an “absolute” way as a basis for truth. You can choose to make the scriptures authoritative for yourself if you want to, and that’s fine. But to say that God has made it so for all humanity will forever remain an assumption.

*****

Also see:

What is the Bible?: Authority (by Rob Bell)
http://robbellcom.tumblr.com/post/70613417528/what-is-the-bible-part-28-authority

What is the basis of your faith? (by Andre Rabe)
http://hearhim.net/wordpress/2013/11/15/what-is-the-basis-of-your-faith/

The Jesus Lens: Can we question the New Testament?
http://www.therebelgod.com/2014/01/the-jesus-lens-can-we-question-new.html#comment-form

The Violent God of the Old Testament

not murder

this i know

Richard Dawkins describes the OT picture of God quite accurately (and exaggerates not): 

The God of the OT is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

There are over a thousand references to divine violence in the Jewish scriptures. Some are well known, such as sending various plagues upon the Egyptians, smiting many Israelites for complaining, demanding animal sacrifices, and the drowning of the majority of all living creatures on land.

noahs ark

But others are rarely mentioned, such as sending two bears to maul 42 youths just for calling Elisha a baldy, supposedly inspiring psalmists to write things like “happy is he who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rocks,” tons of rules that, if broken, required you to be put to death, commanding complete genocide of entire peoples, killing 70,000 innocent people merely because David decided to take a census, and many instances of slaying individuals just because they did something God didn’t like, regardless of whether their intentions were good or not.

I don’t listen to excuses such as “God can do whatever he wants” or “whatever God does is just and right.” Nor do I care for any of the attempts to explain away such instances of cruelty as somehow being “good” for people. I understand that sometimes there can be an element of truth to such explanations, but truth be told, if anyone in our modern society did the same things, even if they claimed to be doing them for the good of humanity, no one would for a moment pretend that that’s okay.

bad law

Nevertheless, this is what we find recorded in the scriptures.

So, then, why were these things written down, and what is their function? Are they to be taken as perfectly factually correct stories and straightforward assertions about the divine character itself?

I think these stories serve a purpose and that that purpose is not theological but anthropological. That is, these stories are not there to tell us what God is like but what humanity, apart from knowing God, is like.

Stories like the ones written by the Jews were by no means unique to the people during that time. Ascribing events and commands to gods was considered to be a compliment to them.

When someone got sick, they would say that the gods caused it.

When someone died, they would say that the gods killed them.

When a disaster occurred, they would say that the gods made it happen.

When a people group was successfully wiped out, they would say that the gods told them to and helped them do it.

The gods were the ultimate control freaks; whatever they wanted to happen, happened. That was how people back then, not just the Jews but everyone, viewed reality.

These things people wrote down reflected how they saw the world at their time in their contexts. These stories they told and the explanations they gave for how and why things happened like they did were filtered through their particular consciousness. – Rob Bell

You are free to believe that every theological statement made in the scriptures is accurate, but understand that that is an assumption and not a conclusion derived from hard evidence. The reason it is assumed to be accurate by most people who call themselves christians is because of the concepts of infallibility/inerrancy and inspiration, both of which must be taken as assumptions also.

The human qualities of the raw materials show through. Naivety, error, contradiction, even (as in the cursing Psalms) wickedness are not removed. The total result is not “the Word of God” in the sense that every passage in itself, gives impeccable science or history. It carries the Word of God. – C.S. Lewis

Personally, I see the scriptures as a process of showing that violence is not a divine but a human characteristic. There is a dual trajectory contrasting two different views of God. Stories are told from two different perspectives – the human persecutor and the human victim, the people doing the violence and the people who are the object of that violence. One sees violence as God’s and as good, the other sees violence as humanity’s and as evil.

God never wanted to use violence, but mankind did; so God worked within mankind’s violence to achieve His purposes, and to slowly wean His people off of the need for blood punishment. – Christian Erickson

pissing off god

One significant reason I think this is because the authors of the NT regularly challenge the violent pictures of God portrayed in the OT by the way in which they quote the OT, intentionally leaving out violent portions (see here).

But the main and most plain reason is because many of the acts of God recorded in the OT are completely contrary to the perfect image of the Father revealed in Jesus. 

God has always been and always will be the same. He wasn’t one way in the OT and something else when Jesus arrived on the scene. Jesus did not change what the Father thought about us or how he treated us. He simply revealed who the Father was.

Jesus came and said, “no, dudes, God’s not like what you think he’s like…let me show you what he’s really like.”

God doesn’t cause sickness; he heals it.

God doesn’t kill people; he raises them from the dead.

God doesn’t make storms happen; he calms them.

God doesn’t discriminate against certain people groups; he hung out with and accepted everyone unconditionally.

The OT is largely not a revelation of God. Jesus said it points to him (John 5:39). It is only a sign. It does reveal some of God’s character, but it is mainly for seeing the foreshadowing of Jesus in it. It’s not primarily for telling us what God is like; only Jesus can do that with perfect accuracy.

If what we perceive to see in the Old Covenant is different or the opposite of what we see in the person of Jesus—who showed us God’s character—then we must side with the expressed image of God in Christ, and then interpret that Old Testament passage through Jesus. The Old Testament is not the expression of God or His nature. If you want to know what God is like or how He acts look at Jesus Christ. Jesus is the picture that God paints of Himself. And it is only through Jesus that we can properly interpret the Old Testament. – Christian Erickson

Thus, I do not consider the OT to always be factually correct in its full representation of God. Instead, I see the OT giving us a picture of what humanity is like apart from knowing God, including its mistaken conceptions about what God is like.

The bible is not a divine monologue, but a divine conversation! As such much of what is recorded is man’s response, mans ideas and man’s argument as we come to terms with the God who reveals Himself. Jesus is not a monologue either, but in Him the divine conversation is met with the perfect human response of agreement. And so in Jesus the conversation comes to a conclusion. – Andre Rabe

I’m not saying that the scriptures themselves are problematic. Rather, it’s our interpretations of them that are the problem – not just of individual passages, but the status we ascribe to the collection as a whole as well.

That the scriptures contain errors does not need to be considered a problem. It is only problematic unless you want to insist that God inspired the scriptures in such a way that it is factually correct in every way and treat them as a theological textbook.

In fact, the theological mistakes in the OT are beneficial to us. They show us the extent of the blindness that people can be in without knowing Christ. That’s why, as Paul wrote, it is useful for teaching, reproof, and correction (2 Timothy 3:16).

The value of the Old Testament may be dependent on what seems its imperfection. It may repel one use in order that we may be forced to use it in another way—to find the Word in it…to re-live, while we read, the whole Jewish experience of God’s gradual and graded self-revelation, to feel the very contentions between the Word and the human material through which it works. – C.S. Lewis

*****

Also see:

http://reknew.org/2013/07/getting-behind-the-letter-of-violent-portraits-of-god/

https://www.facebook.com/notes/andr%C3%A9-van-der-merwe/the-god-of-the-old-testament/10151610739276725

http://robbellcom.tumblr.com/post/67678046281/what-is-the-bible-part-13

http://robbellcom.tumblr.com/post/68808206816/what-is-the-bible-part-16-awkward

What Does Biblical Inspiration Mean, Really? (Part 7)

inspire

Part 6

The scriptures can be inspired and still have mistakes and contradictions

Inspiration doesn’t have to mean that God controlled what was written in any way. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if there are contradictions or not, since it is Holy Spirit who’s going to teach us from it anyways, not logical analysis. Whether the scriptures are inspired or not doesn’t affect Holy Spirit’s ability to speak to us through them. The scriptures can lead us into an encounter with God by pointing to Jesus. Like any book, it is not necessary for them to be “divinely inspired” for Holy Spirit to use them in that way.

Bibles can also be helpful for teaching, reproof, and correction in showing what not to believe, even if it doesn’t say that what is written is mistaken. It requires us to practice discerning by Holy Spirit. Some people would call this picking and choosing, but truth be told everyone picks and chooses – even if we believe that everything that is written is theologically correct, we still must pick and choose the interpretations we will believe.

The Greek word for “inspired by God” (theopneustos) occurs only once in the scriptures (2 Timonty 3:16) and rarely occurs in other Greek literature. It’s meaning is therefore a bit obscure. The word is derived from the Greek words for God (theos) and breathe (pneo), which is why it is sometimes said that the scriptures are “God-breathed” (yet keep in mind that, just like the Latin derivations of our English words, the etymology of a word cannot tell us its real, full meaning). But what if the word was really trying to communicate is not that God breathed the scriptures out but that he breathes on the scriptures, or, in other words, that he simply uses them to speak to us?

If there is anything similar to being God-breathed in the rest of scriptures, it is that God breathed life into Adam and Jesus breathed on his disciples as an act symbolizing the pouring out of Holy Spirit. In both these cases, the “product,” that which is breathed in or on, are fallible human beings. So we could say that people are also God-breathed, and yet people can make mistakes. Apparently God’s okay with that.

“Inspiration” did not always have the meaning it has been given in modern times

I’m taking biblical inspiration to mean that the people who wrote it had a relationship with God. That is also true of writers today. But that doesn’t make the value of all writings of people with relationships with God equal…

God still “inspires” people today because he has living relationships with people he loves and they communicate with each other.

Books written today can also be “profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.”

Conclusion

I view the scriptures as a collection of writings composed by fallible human beings who had certain experiences with God and interpreted them according to their beliefs. The writers probably had no clue that someday their writings would be put together to make up what we now have as bibles. The authors likely did, however, communicate with God about what to write. They wrote to their audience what they knew about God through their own personal revelation (sounds like what people do nowadays, doesn’t it?). The writers of the scriptures all used a different vocabulary and language to convey their thoughts and held different beliefs (even when it came to essentials; e.g. Paul had to confront Peter for choosing to not eat with Gentiles). Thus some had a fuller revelation of the Gospel than others, and they were all growing in their understanding, just like we are.

This does not mean that I hold a lower view of the scriptures compared to those who believe in inspiration in the modern sense or that I have less respect for the scriptures (although some are will surely conclude so). As a matter of fact, most of what I currently understand God to be has come in one way or another from the scriptures. Then again, this is not surprising because that’s the book I’ve spent the most time reading in my life. Part of the reason for that was because I previously did believe that the scriptures were inspired in the modern sense. I thus subconsciously devalued all other books in my mind and did not expect God to speak to me through them. I am now learning to listen to God through everything without thinking that he set apart certain texts as sacred.

What Does Biblical Inspiration Mean, Really? (Part 6)

inspired2

Part 5

No text speaks for biblical canons as a whole

Biblical canons (yes, there are more than one; see here) were chosen by a select group of individuals hundreds of years after the individual pieces were written. Consequently, no text in the scriptures can speak for them as a whole. Yet some people still act as if certain passages do.

For example, some people refer to passages that mention the Law (e.g. Matthew 5:18) as evidence for inspiration. The Law, however, is only a part of the scriptures, and it is different in nature since it was (at least partially) written not by the hands of men but by the finger of God (Exodus 31:18).

Evidence for a part is not evidence for the whole. For example, say archeological evidence confirms that a prophecy correctly foretelling a future event was recorded prior to the event. That is evidence for the inspiration of that part of the prophecy that spoke of that event, but it is not evidence for the scriptures as a whole, not even for the whole prophecy (because it’s possible that the writer was correct in the archeologically confirmed part but wrong in other parts).

Inspiration is practically irrelevant

Even if bibles are inspired, I can’t see how that matters at all. Suppose the original writings were inspired in the modern sense. This is no way invalidates the fact that the processes of transcription, translation, interpretation, and application through which they did and do go through are all fallible. Thus the bibles we now have cannot be used in any “absolute” way as a basis for truth. So what purpose is served in declaring bibles to be inspired?

To me it seems to be a way to secure religious power in the hands of those with knowledge (regardless of whether this is done unintentionally or not). Those who know more, and specifically those who have received religious training, have a corner on truth. Intentionally or not, history and the current state of the “christian” world demonstrates that the scriptures have been and are being consistently used in this way.

How the NT authors use the OT

The ways in which NT authors cite the OT makes it seem that they did not believe in inspiration in the modern sense. I previously wrote about this here.

Objection: But I encounter God through reading bibles

Me too. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it is inspired; it only means (at least) that God speaks to us through it. And truthfully, God can speak to us through anything. If you spend a ton of time reading bibles, then of course sooner or later you will encounter God through it. But you can encounter God playing sports or watching movies too. I’m not saying those are of equal value with bibles. I’m only pointing out that the fact that we encounter God through reading bibles by no means proves it is inspired.

Part 7