Thursday, May 5, 2011

How Do We Trust the Writers of the Bible?

It seems clear that the writers of the Bible were fallible men, and for some of them, they were even rebuked by Jesus as being wrong.  They had wrong ideas, they had wrong beliefs.  So how can we trust that their writings (the Bible) is the word of God?

3 comments:

Daniel Kim said...

Great question..

This issue, fundamentally, arises from the fact that the Bible is written by human beings, who are fallible. The fact that some of them were rebuked by Jesus as being wrong (like Peter) isn't some kind of a new revelation that we need to address in a special way, because it merely provides us with an example of the fact that human beings are fallible. Even if no one was rebuked by Jesus as being wrong, we would still have to struggle with this question, because we readily know that every human being can be wrong. So the question still stands with or without the specific example of Jesus' rebukes: how can the Bible be the word of God when it was written by fallible men?

I would try to answer it this way: The fact that the Bible was written by fallible men does not disqualify the Bible from being the inspired word of God. The divine inspiration of the word of God was never dependent on some kind of perfect knowledge or understanding of the writers anyway. In fact, it’s clear that NO SINGLE WRITER of the Bible actually understood the entire story. As Moses was writing about how he lifted the snake in the middle of the desert, did he have an understanding of what kind of meaning that would hold for Jesus? No. As the Israelites were painting their doorframes with the blood of a sacrificial animal at the Passover, did they have any idea how that would fit into the whole story? No. Although the individual writers didn’t have an idea on how their writings would fit in, when you look at the Bible as a whole, there is a coherence. So who's the author, then? Who is the one who is pushing the story along through history? That's why we call the Bible the word of God, although it was written by human beings with limited understanding.

When one looks at certain prophecies of Jesus, like Psalm 22 which describes the crucifixion scene of Jesus, one has to ask: so did David explicitly know that he was writing about Jesus? No, probably not. He was just writing his own prayer in a poetic way. Another example: given the OT's context, it's likely that OT writers themselves didn't have a personal expectation that God would come and suffer and die on the cross. They probably expected that if God were to show up, it would be something significant, but if they were to guess what that would look like, they would have never come up with the cross. That's why it says in Ephesians 3 that what God did through Jesus "for ages past was kept hidden in God". In other words, if you were to interview the writers of OT, they probably would have had a wrong belief about how God was going to reveal Himself.

So again, we see examples of how the authors had an incomplete (and even wrong) understanding -- yet, through all the mess, we see a picture of God's struggle with mankind.

Daniel Kim said...

If you see this picture that I'm trying to paint above and agree with it, then here's the implied punchline: that the individual authors' incomplete or even wrong knowledge does not threaten the divine inspiration of the Bible.

One implication of this view of the Bible's divine inspiration is that we need to read the Bible correctly. We need to learn the whole counsel of God and appreciate the picture that emerges through the Bible, and we shouldn't treat the Bible as some kind of magical code, where each word and word placement is somehow "magical" -- as if God possessed the hand of the writers and wrote those words Himself..

Islam believes that Quaran is written by Allah in that way. That's why they don't acknowledge any translation as divine. (because in every translation, you end up losing something). But note that in mainstream Christianity, translation of the Bible is considered to be fine. Why? Don't Christians know that every act of translation involves fallible men and therefore possible misinterpretation? Yes, Christians know that already. But it doesn't bother the Christians so much, because Christians believe that God works in the midst of all the messiness of human fallibility and even sin (the crucifixion of Jesus being the most profound manifestation of this fact). Overall, I think this goes to show that the Christian understanding of divine inspiration is a lot more robust than one might have thought, because it turns out that God actually uses communities and human history rather than the belief system of single authors to give authority to His word. There is a previous post about this topic in Divine Inspiration. So you can take a look at that related post as well.

Perhaps at this point, one could ask the question: "well, I understand that the authors could have had an incomplete or wrong understanding about something insignificant, then it wouldn't really threaten the message of the Bible. But what if they were mistaken about something really significant?"

I sympathize with the sentiment and worry, and I don't really have a watertight answer for that which would satisfy everyone. However, since we're discussing "what-if's", I hope you can allow me to make some guesses. We can give an educated guess that God, who has had a good record of being able to work through human history, would not allow for a completely mistaken view to take hold. I recognize that this is just a statement of faith that God would protect us from significantly wrong beliefs. However, I think there is evidence for that in church history.

Moreover, ironically, Jesus' rebuke of the disciples mentioned by the question itself actually SUPPORTS the view that the Bible is a trustworthy word of God. If there were absolutely no corrections recorded in the Gospels, one might wonder -- did the disciples get it perfectly right the first time, so that Jesus had nothing to correct? But the fact that Jesus took pains to correct their wrong thinking, even after his resurrection, demonstrates the plausibility of the theory that God made sure that He corrected any theologically signficant wrong thinking. So we have good reasons to believe that the Bible we have is a trustworthy word of God.

Hew! This was a long answer, and hopefully it was helpful.

Dan Kinder said...

A few extra resources on the subject(note that views may vary, though core beliefs are the same):

23 minute audio: What is Inerrancy, a discussion with William Lane Craig, from ReasonableFaith.org

Article: What Does It Mean That God Inspired the Bible by Gordon Lewis(from The Apologetics Study Bible)

Written Q&A: What Price Biblical Errancy? William Lane Craig responds on reasons for and implications around inerrancy