Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Biblical Inerrancy and the Continuance of Revelation

My good friend Brian wrote a post recently on Biblical Inerrancy. I wanted to make a few comments on that now, based in part on a class I had today: History of Christianity from the Reformation to the Enlightenment with Professor Edward Antonio.

Dr. Antonio was making a point about the nature of the canon (the books that are agreed upon to be in the Bible) and revelation. Firstly, we have to accept that the books of the Bible are at least to some degree a human creation. They didn't fall from the sky. Angels didn't write them and drop them off somewhere for us to find. Someone actually wrote them, presumably under divine inspiration. So let's accept that the scriptures are in fact a human creation (at least to some degree). Let's also accept that the scriptures are to one degree or another inspired by God and are the Word of God.

So, how can that be? How do we know that the scriptures are the Word of God if they are also a human creation? The individual don't claim to have a particularly special status, at least not for the most part. Someone came along later and decided which books would be included. As we know, the canon was still unstable for at least the first few hundred years of Christianity. I'm not going to take the time to look up the date right now, but to my memory, it was between 200 and 400 CE that it was finally decided.

So if we're going to assume that the canon itself is revelation from God, we have to also assume that those who formed the canon were also part of some kind of revelation. Those people who decide what revelation is must have access to some kind of revelation in order to decide what is revelation and what isn't. That means that by definition, there has to be revelation after the last of the books of the Bible were actually written.

But, what I told you before wasn't exactly the truth. You see, someone came along much later (the seventeenth century) and changed the canon. The Protestant reformers cut out the books that they called the Apocrypha. These texts had been accepted as the divine Word of God for over a thousand years, and suddenly they were thrown out. If we agree with the reformers that these texts are not the Word of God, then we must concede that the reformers had access to some form of revelation that told them that these books were not in fact the Word of God.

Finally, let's go to 2 Timothy 3:16-17:

All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.

As Brian points out, this is the great proof text for saying that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God. But let's ask ourselves what "all scripture" would have meant to the writer of Timothy. Well, it wouldn't have included the New Testament because that hadn't been formed or canonized yet. So, we're dealing with the Old Testament here. But, not the Hebrew Bible. No, the Christians and Jews of the time were not reading the Hebrew texts. They were reading the Septuagint, a translation in Greek of the of the Hebrew Scriptures done by 70 scholars, hence its name: Septuagint or LXX. So, "all scripture" would have meant the Septuagint.

Now, I just happen to have a copy of the Septuagint in front of me. Let's look at the Table of Contents. Hmm... Genesis, Exodus, Leuiticus (by the way, the table of contents is in Latin... handy, huh?). Those are normal. Let's skip down... Iudith, Tobit, Machabaeorum I-IV, Sophonias. Yeah, you won't find those in your Zondervan NIV. It's Judith, Tobit, 1-4 Maccabees, and The Wisdom of Solomon, in English, by the way.

Now, the writer of 2 Timothy has just told us that "all scripture is inspired by God..." etc., and we know that "all scripture" meant the Septuagint.... and the Septuagint includes these books that we don't read anymore....... yeah, we kind of have a problem here. The main Biblical source that tells us that the scripture is inspired by God has to tell us that Tobit is inspired by God (and doesn't say anything about the inspiration of the New Testament) but we don't believe that.

We just cannot make that argument. We can't say that our current canon is inspired by God because scripture says it is, because that isn't what scripture says. We also can't limit revelation to the Bible, because the people defined and set the limits of the Bible came after the Bible.

I know that doesn't give any answers, but it does at least knock some of the inaccuracies in the debate.

20 Comments:

Blogger Brian said...

David - this is a fantastic post. I love the argument for revelation beyond just what is in the Bible. I'm actually preaching on the 2 Timothy passage on Oct. 17th (Laity Sunday). Do you mind if I borrow some material from your post?

8:38 PM  
Blogger david said...

Please feel free.

9:14 PM  
Blogger ItalianDragn said...

I have been waiting for a comment on the fact that Mattew, Mark, Luke and John are bibliography's of Jesus' life.....Mark was written within a few years of Jesus' death and resurection, and the last (I think Luke) within 30 years. and most of the Apocrypha was written a few hundred years after Jesus' time on earth. and fior the diferences in the Jewish Bible and our old testament..some of the books we split up are one part in the jewish bible. Luke 24:44. in the upper room jesus told the desciples "that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses and the Propfets, and the Psalms concerning me." with these words he indicated the three sections into which the hebrew bible was diveided - the Law, The Prophets and the 'writings'(aka Psalms) F.F Bruce - " The chief reason for asking if the writings section was complete in our Lords tims is that we have records of discussions that went on among the rabbis after the Fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. about some of the books in this section. when the destruction of the city and temple was imminent, a great rabbi belonging to the school of hillel in the pharisaic party - Yochanan be Zakkai - obtained permission from the Romans to reconstitute the Sandhedrin on a purely spiritual basis at Jabneh or Jammia, between Joppa and Aztus(ashod). some of the discussion which went on at Jamnia were handed downby oral transmition and ultimatly recorded in the rabbinical writings. among their debats they considered whether canonical recognition should be accorded the books of proverds, Ecclesiastes, The song of songs, and Esther......But the upshot of the Jamnia debates was the firm acknowledgment of all the books as Holy Scripture.
Apocryphal Literature
In the fourth century Jerome was the first to call the group of literatur "Apocrypha." The Apocrypha consits odf books added to the Old Testament by the Catholic Church that Protestants say are not canonical.
Unger's Bible Dictionary
1. they abound in historical and geographical inaccuracies and anachronisms.
2. they teach doctrines which are false and foster practices which are at variance with inspired scriptures.
3. they resort to literary types and display an artificiality of subject mater and stylling out of keeping with inspired scriptures.
4. they lack the distinctive elements which give genuine Scripture their divine charater, such as prophetica power and poetic and religious feeling.
The Apophryca are: 1 Esdras, 2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, Additions to Esther, The Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiastus or Wisdom of Sirach, Baruch, Bel and the Dragon, Song of the three Hebrew Children, Prayer of Manasseh, 1&2 Maccabees.
Josephus (AD 30-100) a Jewish historian explicitly excludes the Apocrypha, numbering the books of the Old testament as 22.
Jesus and New Testament Writers never once quoted the Apocrypha although there are hundreds of quotes and references to almost all of the canoniocal books of the Old Testament.
the Jewish scholars of Jamnia (AD90) did not reconise the Apocrypha
Jerome (340-420), The Great Scholar and translator of the Vulgate, rejected the Apocrypha as part of the Canon
Many Roman Catholic Scholars through the reformation period rejected the Apocrypha.
Not until A.D. 1546, in a polemical action at the Counter Reformation Council of Trent, did the Apocryphal books receive full canonical status by the Roman Catholic Church.

..I could go on if you want..but I am tired and want to go to bed.

5:13 AM  
Blogger Brian said...

Andrew - I think you're missing the point. Not that David needs my help defending him, but I like sticking my nose where it doesn't belong.

I don't think David is claiming divine inspiration for the Apocrypha. His point is the passage in 2nd Timothy is not only not referring to the Bible as we know it, but not even the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible as we know it.

I think his point is that what we consider to be "scripture" has changed a lot in the last 2 or 3 thousand years. That's a pretty compelling case for human intervention. The case for divine, plenary inspiration of the scripture is pretty untenable, at least in my opinion.

10:47 AM  
Blogger ItalianDragn said...

he claims that the Apocypha was in the Jewish/Hebrew bible...but they were not..the only bible they are in is the Catholic Bible

1:42 PM  
Blogger david said...

I don't mean to be contentious (although I probably am going to be) but I think you got many of your facts wrong. The Septuagint (which includes the books of the Apocrapha) was completed between 300-150 BCE, well before the birth of Jesus. And as to the Gospels, Mark was written about 70 CE, about 40 years after the death of Jesus. Matthew and Luke-Acts were probably completed about 80 CE, and John around 90 CE. None of the Gospels are in any way first-person journalistic accounts of the life of Jesus. They are theologized compilations of reports about Jesus completed a generation or two after his death. By the way, I'm getting those dates from David L. Barr, New Testament Story: An Introduction, Third Edition (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, 2002) 492-493. That was my New Testament textbook a couple years ago. Sorry I don't have the time right now to check your other dates and facts right now.

As Brian stated above, I'm mainly trying to make the point that our idea of what scripture is has changed a great deal over the history of the church. If we are going to accept the current protestant canon as the only divinely inspired texts, then we have to say that the protestant reformers were themselves divinely inspired in order to pick out those books, which of course shatters the idea that the Bible is the last instance of divine revelation.

Don't get me wrong, I do think the Bible is divinely inspired and incredibly important to the Christian faith. But I also think it is a human creation. In fact, I have been able to gain much greater understanding of the word of God since I started reading it this way.

2:02 PM  
Blogger ItalianDragn said...

my main source is Josh McDowell, and a few others such as Pastor Mel Crutchfield from Sunset Press, Pastor Carl Nine (who I personally know, and he has studied the greek manuscripts and I don't know what else)

and what about Josephus excluding the Apophryca, the Apocrypha is npt quoted in the NT, have historical and geographical inacuracies (unlike the rest of the bible) and have teachings that contradict the rest of the bible.

I just found this http://www.bible.ca/canon.htm while writing this responce...

21 reasons why the Apocrypha is not inspired:

The Roman Catholic Church did not officially canonize the Apocrypha until the Council of Trent (1546 AD). This was in part because the Apocrypha contained material which supported certain Catholic doctrines, such as purgatory, praying for the dead, and the treasury of merit.
Not one of them is in the Hebrew language, which was alone used by the inspired historians and poets of the Old Testament.
Not one of the writers lays any claim to inspiration.
These books were never acknowledged as sacred Scriptures by the Jewish Church, and therefore were never sanctioned by our Lord.
They were not allowed a place among the sacred books, during the first four centuries of the Christian Church.
They contain fabulous statements, and statements which contradict not only the canonical Scriptures, but themselves; as when, in the two Books of Maccabees, Antiochus Epiphanes is made to die three different deaths in as many different places.
The Apocrypha inculcates doctrines at variance with the Bible, such as prayers for the dead and sinless perfection.
And the day following Judas came with his company, to take away the bodies of them that were slain, and to bury them with their kinsmen, in the sepulchers of their fathers. And they found under the coats of the slain some of the donaries of the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbiddeth to the Jews: so that all plainly saw, that for this cause they were slain. Then they all blessed the just judgment of the Lord, who had discovered the things that were hidden. And so betaking themselves to prayers, they besought him, that the sin which had been committed might be forgotten. But the most valiant Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves from sin, forasmuch as they saw before their eyes what had happened, because of the sins of those that were slain. And making a gathering, he sent twelve thousand drachmas of silver to Jerusalem for sacrifice to be offered for the sins of the dead, thinking well and religiously concerning the resurrection, (For if he had not hoped that they that were slain should rise again, it would have seemed superfluous and vain to pray for the dead,) And because he considered that they who had fallen asleep with godliness, had great grace laid up for them. It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins. (2 Maccabees 12:39-46)
The apocrypha contains offensive materials unbecoming of God’s authorship.
Ecclesiasticus 25:19 Any iniquity is insignificant compared to a wife's iniquity.
Ecclesiasticus 25:24 From a woman sin had its beginning. Because of her we all die.
Ecclesiasticus 22:3 It is a disgrace to be the father of an undisciplined, and the birth of a daughter is a loss.
It teaches immoral practices, such as lying, suicide, assassination and magical incantation.
The apocryphal books themselves make reference to what we call the Silent 400 years, where there was no prophets of God to write inspired materials.
And they laid up the stones in the mountain of the temple in a convenient place, till there should come a prophet, and give answer concerning them. (1 Maccabees 4:46)
And there was a great tribulation in Israel, such as was not since the day, that there was no prophet seen in Israel. (1 Maccabees 9:27)
And that the Jews, and their priests, had consented that he should be their prince, and high priest for ever, till there should arise a faithful prophet. (1 Maccabees 14:41)
Josephus rejected the apocryphal books as inspired and this reflected Jewish thought at the time of Jesus
"From Artexerxes to our own time the complete history has been written but has not been deemed worthy of equal credit with the earlier records because of the failure of the exact succession of the prophets." ... "We have not an innumerable multitude of books among us, disagreeing from and contradicting one another, but only twenty-two books, which contain the records of all the past times; which are justly believed to be divine..."(Flavius Josephus, Against Apion 1:8)
The Manual of Discipline in the Dead Sea Scrolls rejected the apocrypha as inspired.
The Council of Jamnia held the same view rejected the apocrypha as inspired.
They debated the canonicity of a few books (e.g., Ecclesiastes), but they changed nothing and never proclaimed themselves to be authoritative determiners of the Old Testament canon. "The books which they decided to acknowledge as canonical were already generally accepted, although questions had been raised about them. Those which they refused to admit had never been included. They did not expel from the canon any book which had previously been admitted. 'The Council of Jamnia was the confirming of public opinion, not the forming of it.'" (F. F. Bruce, The Books and Parchments [Old Tappan, NJ.: Fleming H. Revell, 1963], p. 98])
Although it was occasionally quoted in early church writings, it was nowhere accepted in a canon. Melito (AD 170) and Origen rejected the Apocrypha, (Eccl. Hist. VI. 25, Eusebius) as does the Muratorian Canon.
Jerome vigorously resisted including the Apocrypha in his Latin Vulgate Version (400 AD), but was overruled. As a result, the standard Roman Catholic Bible throughout the medieval period contained it. Thus, it gradually came to be revered by the average clergyman. Still, many medieval Catholic scholars realized that it was not inspired.
The terms "protocanonical" and "deuterocanonical" are used by Catholics to signify respectively those books of Scripture that were received by the entire Church from the beginning as inspired, and those whose inspiration came to be recognized later, after the matter had been disputed by certain Fathers and local churches.
Pope Damasus (366-384) authorized Jerome to translate the Latin Vulgate. The Council of Carthage declared this translation as "the infallible and authentic Bible." Jerome was the first to describe the extra 7 Old Testament books as the "Apocrypha" (doubtful authenticity). Needless to say, Jerome’s Latin Vulgate did not include the Apocrypha.
Cyril (born about A.D. 315) – "Read the divine Scriptures – namely, the 22 books of the Old Testament which the 72 interpreters translated" (the Septuagint)
The apocrypha wasn’t included at first in the Septuagint, but was appended by the Alexandrian Jews, and was not listed in any of the catalogues of the inspired books till the 4th century
Hilary (bishop of Poictiers, 350 A.D.) rejected the apocrypha (Prologue to the Psalms, Sec. 15)
Epiphanius (the great opposer of heresy, 360 A.D.) rejected them all. Referring to Wisdom of Solomon & book of Jesus Sirach, he said "These indeed are useful books & profitable, but they are not placed in the number of the canonical."

1:10 AM  
Anonymous gary said...

It seems, that in study, in research and in use of all scriptures in and even beyond the Cannon, that there seems to be inherited contradictions both of what we call history and meanings of literature. That factor acknowledged takes no legitimate inspiration intended and received from all of these writings as Divine literature. Men (& women) inspired by God first orally communicated and then wrote in various languages, their experiences and the messages that they received from our Creator and through their experiences. Now we are man again playing God. Judging from forms of poetry and what we think is consistency of feeling to justify leaving in or out messages both coded and obvious. All of this Divine Literature came from our human ancestors from different time periods and experiences. In our pristine sterile existences are trying to exact meaning that we are trying to qualify (& quantify) from those ancient experiences perculiar to those times without knowing all that we need to know to have perfect contextural knowledge of those seemingly special moments of the past.
Jesus's disciples complained to Jesus that one outside their group was teaching and prophesying & teaching in Jesus's name. Jesus told them to let them be for it would be good for all men (& women) to prophsy in my name. What I am saying here is that we cannot be so granite-headed to think that we have all of God's revelation in one book inspired by God experience and recorded by other men based on what they felt saw and understood at that time and then omit other experiences. The revelationary Spirit of God is still being revealed even today. It is not in one book or even in a group of scriptures (I don't believe any single book of scriptures can contain the all) But God is revealing Himself through us, the Universe and everything else. This means that He has always revealed himself through everything that is natural and righous. But that still begs interpretation and that is where man gets ego-lost. Man wants to have hoard and control exclusive truth and he interprets what he has been taught is the only exclusive in-road to God. He is like the old matron in the chuch who sits and holds on to the same seat in church every sunday until she dies and only then does she move to the center isle. That seat does not make her anymore sacred. Maybe, had she ciruclated and learned other people and participated with them in sharing the gift of Divinty to us all she may have been happier,lived longer and become the active Christian needed in the 100 Monkey dynamic. I am saying that we seek God in everthing and not limited to King James's choices. As we open and find many true experiences of God in all His creation, we no longer judge and limit, we become active participants, sharing in the greatness of God's unfolding revelation that is even active now as we speak and will always be. Glory hallelujah...God is here right now working through us...writing new revalation. Praise God.

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