Today, we will be looking at the Bible itself and what some of the historic creeds have stated about the nature of the Scriptures. I will also be sharing some of my own views on the Bible and aspects of these creedal positions. Before we end today, I would also like to discuss how these positions influence the core Bible principles we discuss here each week.
So I’d like to begin by describing my view of the Bible and its purpose.
The word Bible comes from the Greek “ta biblia” meaning “the books”. It is a collection of books that have been written over a period of one and a half millennia. They were written by a variety of Hebrew people primarily to and about the Hebrew people during various stages of their history as a nation, from approximately 1,500 BC to the 60’s AD.
The Hebrew Bible is generally what would be called by Christians the “Old Testament”. In Hebraic communities, it is known by the acronym TNK, or Tanakh. TNK stands for the Hebrew words Torah (Instruction), Nevi’im (Prophets) and Ketuvim (Writings).
Here is a broad outline of the categories of books contained within the whole Bible:
Beginning with the Tanakh, the Torah (Law or Instruction) is considered to include primarily the first five books of the Bible, and they are attributed to Moses. They describe the beginnings and the establishment of the nation of Israel and its religious system of worship. These books provide a foundation for the rest of the Bible story to be contextually understood and built upon.
The Nevi’im or prophetic books were largely written as urgings to God’s people to return to the right ways of God when they had gone astray, and described the hope for future reconciliation.
The Ketuvim or Writings include the historical books explaining the origins and out-workings of the physical kingdom of Israel, and the rise and fall of various Hebrew leaders. Through these stories we learn of God’s faithfulness and justice with his people and with those of the nations surrounding them. The Ketuvim also include other poetic writings which describe God’s wisdom and care for his people through elaborate word pictures, hymns of praise and worship, and proverbs.
Now as we move from the Tanakh into the “New Testament” writings, we also move from Hebrew documents into Greek. The New Testament or Apostolic Writings is a collection of books written in Greek in the early first century by the followers of Yeshua. Some believe these also may have been originally written in Hebrew or Aramaic. These books relate stories and instruction regarding the life of Yeshua (the Gospels) and the lives and experiences of those who would form new communities based on his teachings (Acts and the letters to the various congregations). They include historical narratives, correspondence between communities, and a form of Hebrew literature known as apocalyptic prophecy (the book of Revelation). They are all filled with references to and quotes from the Tanakh and its stories.
Different groups today will categorize the books of the Bible in different ways, and some will include different books here and there. The important thing to remember, however, is that within these pages, I believe God has revealed his mind and purposes for the benefit of his creation.
Okay, so that’s my perspective on what the Bible is. As we consider the writings in the Bible, it is important to keep in mind that these books are a collection of ancient middle-eastern writings that cover a wide variety of literary styles and are not all literal “newspaper accounts” of God’s dealings with men. They were not written specifically to us in our present day. They were written to the Hebrew people in a context appropriate for their moment in the history and culture of that nation. However, even though they were not written to us, we can say they were written for us, that is, for our benefit. Through these writings we are privileged to see how God has chosen to express himself and work with and among those whom he has chosen to do so. Understanding this distinction is one of the most important aspects of coming to know what the Bible narrative is really all about.
With that background, if we take all of these books as collectively telling a cohesive story, let’s see what the Bible books have to say about themselves.
- 2 Peter 1:20-21 But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
This statement, attributed to the apostle Peter, demonstrates how the books of the Bible, and here specifically speaking primarily about the Tanakh, claims to be divinely inspired. Believers in Messiah will typically include the New Testament writings within this category of divinely inspired writings, since they are completing the narrative of the Tanakh.
Besides considering the writings to be inspired, the Bible also teaches God has chosen to reveal himself through nature, the people of Israel, and most significantly through his Son, Yeshua.
In regard to the natural revelation of God in nature, the psalmist writes:
- Psalm19:1-4 The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; Their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, And their utterances to the end of the world…
The apostle Paul also used the creation as a basis of his speech to the Greeks assembled in Athens:
- Acts 17:22-27 So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. “For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all [people] life and breath and all things; and He made from one every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined [their] appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us…
The Scriptures also portray God specifically revealing himself and His will for men to and through the ancient Hebrew people of Israel.
- 1 Kings 8:53 “For You have separated them [Israel] from all the peoples of the earth as Your inheritance, as You spoke through Moses Your servant, when You brought our fathers forth from Egypt, O Lord Yawheh.”
- 2 Kings 17:13-14 Yet the Lord warned Israel and Judah through all His prophets and every seer, saying, “Turn from your evil ways and keep My commandments, My statutes according to all the law which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you through My servants the prophets.” However, they did not listen, but stiffened their neck like their fathers, who did not believe in Yahweh their God.
- Nehemiah 9:30 “However, You bore with them [Israel] for many years, And admonished them by Your Spirit through Your prophets, Yet they would not give ear. Therefore You gave them into the hand of the peoples of the lands.
Finally, the Bible claims that the ultimate revelation of God has been through his Son, Yeshua:
- Hebrews 1:1-2 God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things…
- John 1:17 For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Yeshua, Messiah.
- John 14:6 Yeshua said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.
- 1 John 4:9 By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.
The Bible therefore claims to reveal God in nature, Israel, and most significantly, through his Messiah, Yeshua. It is in this sense that I believe the Bible to be a divine revelation.
Now let’s take a look at some of the creedal descriptions of various organizations and denominations. All denominations and faith traditions within the Christian tradition understand that if we desire to have a biblical worldview, then we need to recognize some basics about these documents that shape our faith.
Here are a few examples of some random organizations that I pulled up in a quick search for “Statements of Faith”:
- National Association of Evangelicals: “We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.”
- BasicChristian.org: “We believe the Holy Bible is God’s word Personally spoken by God for mankind for the purpose of revealing who He is and it is without error in all issues to which it speaks.”
- Chicago Statement on Biblical Application: “We affirm that this God can be known through His revelation of Himself in His inerrant written Word.”
- Church of God in Christ: “We believe the Bible to be the inspired and only infallible written Word of God.”
- Torchbearers International: “The Bible is, in its entirety, the revelation of God for mankind, inspired by the Holy Spirit.”
- Simplyscripture.org: “We believe the Bible to be the only revealed, pure, complete and preserved Word of God throughout all the ages. Scripture is solely contained within the 66 books of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. We believe the Scriptures to be the inerrant, infallible, unchangeable Word of God and is the final authority for all matters of faith and practice.”
Okay, so you get the idea. Among the list of qualities about the Bible, it is considered by churches and para-church organizations to be revelatory, inspired, inerrant, infallible. So let’s define some of these qualities for a better understanding of what they are saying, and then I will add some comments about my own perspective on each of these qualities.
First of all is the idea that the Bible is REVELATORY: God has revealed himself in the Bible and he can be known through his workings as related within its pages.
I don’t disagree with this, other than different groups may define what God has revealed about himself differently from one another. I would simply say that God, who is unknowable outside of his own revelation of himself, desires his people to honor and represent him, living according to the principles his kingdom. I would also include the fact that nature itself is a form of God’s revelation of his power and majesty. And while general principles about God can be deduced from nature, it is only in the written revelation of the Bible where the specifics of God’s desires for mankind are revealed.
Secondly, these creeds say that the Bible is INSPIRED: The writers of the Bible were inspired by God or the spirit of God to convey what he wanted to communicate.
Based on my previous statement about God being unknowable, then it follows that those who would write about the nature and workings of God would necessarily have to be inspired to do so. This type of inspiration is typically recognized as God working through the various authors of the Bible to communicate. Again, many different groups define this inspiration differently, whether being immersed in God‘s spirit, or receiving ideas and wisdom from God and writing it out in their own way. Even Jewish thinkers throughout the centuries have had varying opinions about levels of inspiration for the various writings. In my mind, I am simply content to recognize God‘s influence over those who wrote the actual texts to ensure his will would be made known.
Thirdly, these creeds assert that the Bible is INERRANT. Now the specifics of inerrancy are typically defined further by the organization, but in general, it means the Bible is 100% without error. However, this is usually qualified by saying inerrancy was only in the original written documents, not necessarily the many manuscripts we have today. This qualifier is necessary because, quite honestly, there are errors in the manuscripts that we use for Bible versions that we have today. There are spelling differentials, numerical differences in some generations or years of a king’s reign, and some insertions into the text from later hands.
However, for me, this makes for a more robust understanding of the reality of just how old these documents really are. If we had perfectly preserved autograph documents from the original authors there would be more questions as to how something could be so perfectly preserved when everything else in the natural world of antiquity has been diminished. Therefore, they would more likely be considered forgeries of some type. In reality, the Bible can’t win with this type of logic. Either it’s too perfect, or not perfect enough.
The reason these minor grammatical areas do not pose a problem for me is that through tireless research they have been identified, and we know where they are and how little they impact the overall message of the Bible as a whole. So stating that the Bible is inerrant is kind of not true unless it is defined further. For me, to say the Bible is inerrant is difficult to do. Even to say that the original written documents had no errors is a stretch, because they no longer exist anywhere. Therefore that is a statement that cannot be validated.
Lastly, we come to the topic of the Bible being INFALLIBLE. This theological term simply means the Bible is considered unable to be wrong on the topics it covers.
Again, I don’t necessarily have a problem with this concept in theory, because I do believe the Bible contains the word of God, but infallibility isn’t something practical and readily understandable to the general person. Infallibility is a theological term that for me connotes a high religious supremacy of some type. This is not untrue about the Bible. But with the concept of infallibility comes judgments of infallibility about practice based on fallible interpretations of these ancient texts, and this is why I try to avoid this type of terminology.
I believe it is simpler to say I believe the Bible is true primarily because Yeshua believed in what the Scriptures said. Since I am a follower of Yeshua, then it makes sense that I would also place the same level of regard on the Scriptures as being God’s word as he did. He repeatedly referred to the authority of Scripture by saying “it is written” and then quoting it, and by using the argument that “Scripture cannot be broken” when making an argument with the religious leaders. Since he trusted the writings as authoritative and reliable, then I also do. To me, this is the crux of the issue: not inerrancy and infallibility but reliability. I want to know the textual basis of my worldview and belief system is reliable.
Now as for the New Testament writings which were penned after Messiah, a primary reason I believe these books are also trustworthy as inspired records is due to the evidence of recurring patterns and consistent themes throughout all of the writings. Many of the patterns and themes begun in the Tanakh are carried over to fulfillment in the writings of the New Testament.
|Paradise lost||Paradise regained|
|Scattering of God’s people due to disobedience||Reconciliation and return provided for|
|Seeking of God’s Anointed leader (Messiah)||Messiah realized in Yeshua|
|Natural principles of instruction||Spiritual principles based on the natural|
|Hope for God’s future kingdom||God’s kingdom a present reality|
These types of parallels is what makes the Bible such a cohesive whole, and is the joy of those who study it deeply.
I believe it was God‘s good design to entrust the bulk of his communication with the Jewish people who were extremely faithful in maintaining his revealed word. Even in the past one hundred years, this has been evidenced by documents discovered among the dead sea scrolls which were much earlier than previous manuscripts texts available to us. These earlier documents showed remarkable consistency with manuscripts generated centuries later.
So for my own creedal position on this issue, I want to make it clear that I do believe the Bible, as a repository of the witness of God about himself to mankind, is a reliable collection of books in which the truth of God is found. I have come to recognize that even though there are legitimate textual questions about specific biblical passages, the Bible is still trustworthy, and maybe even more authentic because of them.
So if I was to make a declaratory statement regarding the Bible, it would be something like this:
- I believe that complete message of the Bible points to the faithfulness of God with his people Israel, culminating in the person and ministry of the Lord Yeshua.
- Through God’s holy Spirit and his Word, the Bible, God desires to lead people to faith in Yeshua and to guide them in a life of faithful obedience to his will.
- I accept the entire Bible as authoritatively testifying to the nature, work, and wisdom of God. These are the Scriptures or sacred writings concerning God’s revelation of himself to mankind.
- God’s purpose in these revelations has been an exhibition of his own glory and the establishment of his Kingdom on the earth.
In summary, the broad statements of my own understanding and faith concerning the Bible are:
- The Bible is the authoritative revelation of God for us, for the purpose of establishing his Kingdom on the earth.
- It was not written to us in this 21st century, but it was written for us, for our benefit.
- I believe it’s a stretch to say the Bible is inerrant, and it’s equally vague to claim infallibility where poor interpretive principles are usually apparent; however, I also believe the intent behind those claims of inerrancy and infallibility are made with the intent to honor God.
- I do believe the Bible is absolutely reliable and contains the Word of God for people today. Indications of its reliability are found in its recurring themes and patterns.
It is because of the Bible’s reliability we can see the broad basis for the importance of understanding its core principles which I believe God has revealed through the Ten Commandments and the principles of the Sermon on the Mount:
- Separate yourself to seek first the Kingdom with vigilance.
- Love God with all of your heart, mind, and strength, trusting him for everything.
- And love others as yourself with integrity, forgiveness, and compassion.
Next week, closely aligned with this topic of the Bible, we will take on the concept of the Eternal Torah.
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