Last week, I talked about what bible study is. Today, I want to talk about what the bible is. Again, we think it's a question that does not need to be asked, so why ask it? The answer to that is that quite simply, not everyone who claims the name Christian will agree on what the bible is.
First, the bible is a book, a written word. But it is more than just a collection of stories and poems. It is the revealed word of the God of the universe. It is Scripture, and its author and its content are more than just words meant to entertain, although the stories in Scripture are very entertaining.
What the bible teaches about Scripture is referred to as the Doctrine of Scripture. I won't be covering this topic in depth. At the end of this post I will refer you to some resources which have helped me. I will, however, start this week and finish next week. I realize that the women who want to read these posts are busy and may not have time for a long read. In this post, I want to talk about the the inspiration and the inerrancy of Scripture. Remember, we all have presuppositions as we enter a study of anything, and knowing what we think about the nature of God's word and its author is important.
The Bible was authored by God through the agency of human writers (2 Peter 1:21). The words are God-breathed, or inspired. Why is this important? The author of any book is important although many postmodern literary scholars will try to convince you that authorship is not terribly important. Authorship is crucial. The fact that Jane Austen was who she was contributed to all over her novels. If I'm going to read a book about what it's like to be in prison, you can bet I will get a different story from a book by someone like Alexander Solzhenitsyn as opposed to what Charlie Sheen might come up with.
Throughout the Old Testament, we hear the phrase, "Thus says the Lord." When Moses talks to the children of Isreal, he uses that phrase. He knows he is not speaking his own words, but utters God's word. The prophets recognized that they spoke words of God. Those words were later written down, and used by New Testament authors, as well as Jesus himself. The apostle Paul in II Timothy 3:16 talks about the inspiration of Scripture:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
Notice that Paul says "all" Scripture.
In addition to the inspiration of Scripture, it is inerrant. According to Wayne Grudem, this is what inerrancy means:
The inerrancy of Scripture means that Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything which is contrary to fact.
This does not mean that Scripture contains all facts; it just means that the facts it contains are not in error. Titus 1:2 refers to the God who cannot lie. God's word is in harmony with his character, which cannot lie. Psalm 12:6 reminds us of the purity of God's word:
The words of the Lord are pure words,
like silver refined in a furnace on the ground,
purified seven times.
The purpose of this post is not to convince you that the bible is God's word. That lies beyond the scope of what I am doing. My purpose in discussing this is to remind us what we are studying: the inspired, inerrant words of God. Understanding that is very important, because if we do not recognize that the bible is God's word, then we will not interpret it with the motive of obeying it. As I study the bible, recognizing it as God's word, there is an assumption that obeying the word means obeying him. If I believe that the bible is just a wonderful collection of stories, then it has no authority in my life. If I don't believe that the bible is inerrant, it is the same situation. If I believe that there is error in one place, who is to say that it is not full of error in other places? Can I obey a book with the risk of error? If I think one place has an error but the other does not, how do I determine which is the error and which is the truth? What I choose to obey becomes a matter of my own discernment. When my own discernment is above God's word, then I am in trouble.
This may seem like a superflous exercise, because don't we all think the bible is inspired and inerrant? Well, right now, one of the biggest controversies in theological circles is the historicity of Adam. Was he a real man, or is he an allegory? The book of Genesis does not introduce Adam as an allegory. It introduces him as a man. Can I believe that it is true? If I cannot believe in the account of creation as a true and inerrant account, then what about the rest of the bible? That issue is one that is complicated and also beyond the scope of this post, but I think you get my meaning. There was actually a woman in one of the ladies' bible studies at my church who dominated a discussion for most of the class, challenging the teacher with the reality of a literal six day creation. Clearly, this woman has a different view of Scripture than did the teacher, and actually the other fifteen or so women in the class.
As we study the bible, and look for it to teach us God's truth, we have to accept its inspiration and inerrancy, because those lie at the heart of its authority, and if we're not looking to put the bible in authority over our lives, then why do we study it? Sincere Christians study the bible to know God and to hear his voice and to submit to its teaching. If we question that authority, we will have difficulty submitting to it.
Next week, I hope to discuss the necessity, sufficiency, and clarity of Scripture. I know this may sound dry and boring, but these things are foundational as we think about this awesome book we study.
Wayne Grudem, Bible Doctrine (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, MI, 1991)
Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, (Wm. Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, MI, 1996)