God’s responsibility – 1
What is God responsible for, in the sense that “there it is, and it looks as if He must have intended this”? I suggest at least two things: His Word, ie the Bible, and the passage of time.
If the Bible is inerrant and provides everything we need for salvation, then this implies that all of it has God’s authority (guiding its writers) and that He also controlled its contents (guiding those who selected the canon).
(Of course, “inerrant” has meant many different things to people, as has the “Word of God”. I have not read the reams of learned work on the subject. “Of the making of many books there is no end…” (Ecclesiastes 12:12.) Many Christians believe that some parts are mythological or metaphorical, rather than literally true. And it is plain that the Bible is the work of human scribes as well as God, so it is surely allowable to say “this analysis shows Paul’s brilliant theological mind”, or “the lack of overt criticism of Lot’s actions as a father in Genesis 18 reflects the cultural context of the time”.)
If the Bible isn’t inerrant, but is still “the Word of God”, and God is powerful, most of the above still applies.
The Bible contains passages that seem to contradict each other, usually in small details, and also contains writings that clearly have differing theological emphases. There are those who are determined to explain all the contradictions – for example, how did Judas die, or how many angels were present at the tomb? If you try hard enough (and we’ve had 2000 years for this task) an explanation can be found for almost anything – for instance, the fact that Revelation chapter 7 seems to list the tribes of Israel without including Dan.
It also contains an enormous amount of repetition. Surely the greatest admirer of the book of Job (and Job has many many admirers) will admit that it goes on a bit. And it’s painful sometimes to read Bible notes on the Psalms trying to find a new way of saying “This psalm shows us that it’s OK to be honest with God.” Like so many others.
But if the Bible is the word of God, and God is almighty, God is in control, not just of a seamless and perfect story, but also of the fact that the story doesn’t look seamless and tidy and organised.
God could, if He chose, have told Luke and Matthew to harmonise their accounts of where the Ascension took place. Or asked John to tweak some of his references to “Jews” so they don’t (to prejudiced 21st-century people) look anti-semitic.
He could have controlled the manuscript copies, and translations. We have alternative endings to Mark’s gospel. Which is final?
A person I know is fond of referring to 2 Samuel 21:19, which appears to show that Goliath the Gittite was killed by one “Elhanan, son of Jaare-Oregim the Bethlehemite”, and not by David. The footnotes to our NIV edition points out that an Elhanan is said to have killed “Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite” in 1 Chronicles 20:5, and suggests that a scribe misread “Lahmi the brother of” for “the Bethlehemite”. But even if this is right, and we don’t need to doubt David’s glory, isn’t it still a mistake by someone? In the Bible?
And the translations. Many of the NT writers were using a Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures known as the Septuagint. Hence the quotation in Matthew of Isaiah 7:14 as “a virgin shall conceive.” We now have translations from the original Hebrew that say “young woman”. (And in the immediate context of Isaiah 7, the child is surely Isaiah’s son, conceived and born in chapter 8. I was quite shocked when I first noticed this.)
It’s really quite muddling.
Is God trying to say “It isn’t all tidy; don’t reduce life and Me to a neat system”?
And what are the implications if He is?
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