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?

Love from the PPI Blogger

  • Alan Darley

    13th May 2016 at 8:30 pm Reply

    Thank you for your stimulating questions, Penny! ‘It is the glory of God to conceal a matter and the glory of kings to search it out’ (Prov. 25:2). Therefore we will always be striving towards perfect knowledge and never arriving – not even in the Beatific vision ( Philippians 3:12-14)! Yet here are a few provisional thoughts on your blog:

    1. The doctrine of inerrancy applies to the original autographs and not to the copies – after all anyone could copy the Bible and inspiration would not extend to them! Nevertheless we believe the majority text is reliable since the variations are not significant. The Dead Sea Scrolls text of Isaiah dated 2nd to 1st century BC when compared to the previous earliest Masoretic text of AD 980 revealed the remarkable accuracy with which scribes copied the sacred texts. The Isaiah scrolls found at Qumran closed the gap from the original to the earliest copy to within 500 years of the original manuscript. Of the 166 Hebrew words in Isaiah 53, only seventeen letters in Dead Sea Scroll 1QIsb differ from the Masoretic Text (Geisler and Nix, 1986, p. 382).10 letters = spelling differences, 4 letters = stylistic changes, 3 letters = added word for “light” (vs. 11) = 17 letters = no effect on biblical teaching.

    2. Inspiration does not eliminate human culture, personality or weakness in the orthodox view. It is not Divine dictation (unlike in Islam)As Aquinas puts it ‘grace does not destroy nature, but perfects it.’ This is analogous to the two natures of Christ who is both 100% God and 100% human yet without sin. The Scriptures are 100% Divine and 100% human yet without error.

    3. In the logical sense a contradiction entails that ‘that the same attribute cannot at the same time belong and not belong to the same subject and in the same respect..’ (Aristotle, Metaphysics, 4). It has not been demonstrated to my knowledge that such contradictions occur in the Scriptures.

    4. That inspiration extends to the words and not merely the experience of the authors is clear both from the testimony of the apostles (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:19-21 and Christ, who is the Author and Perfector of our faith (Mark 13:31; Matt 5:18; Matt 4:4, 7, 10; Luke 4:4-8; John 10:35; Luke 24:26-27), but is also revealed in the fulfilment of predictive prophecy such as Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22. concerning the first coming of Christ. It is true that some messianic prophecies had both an immediate fulfilment and a longer range fulfilment (as in Isaiah 7) which are telescoped together. But this shows that ‘authorial intention’ extends beyond the human authors to the Divine author. As it is written in 1 Peter 1:10-12 ‘Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.’ Hence Origen speaks of a ‘literal sense’ and an ‘elevated sense’ in his debates with the Gnostics who believed that the God of the Old Testament must be different from the God of the new. A Christian hermeneutic must make room for both senses.

  • Penelope

    14th May 2016 at 12:31 am Reply

    I was taught that the earliest biblical passages currently available were in the silver scrolls discovered in the Ketef Hinnom caves near the present day Church of Scotland Hospice and church in Jerusalem. Their date is subject to interpretation but is thought to be from before the destruction of the first temple in 587 BC. They are written in paleo-Hebrew as they predate the development of the Aramaic script. They seem to contain at least part of the priestly blessing given in Numbers 6:24 “Yahweh bless you and keep you; 6:25 Yahweh make his face shine upon you, and give you peace”. They seem to miss out, “and be gracious to you; 6:26 Yahweh lift up his countenance upon you”, which we are more familiar with in Numbers but I don’t think it is clear if this is because the scrolls are only a partial quotation or because parts of the scroll are missing.

    These are tantilising fragments, possibly from a time before the Exile and seem to indicate that there were already some biblical texts in written form even before they were collected together at the time of the Exile. They speak to me of a continuing process where God inspires us and we gradually come to learn and understand more about Him. This process seems to be continuing. Jesus may be the complete and perfect representation of God but neither the disciples at the time nor we today have yet fully understood Him.

  • Penelope

    14th May 2016 at 10:45 am Reply

    Dear Alan and anyone else reading this, thank you (Alan) for your gracious and equally stimulating response. Would you like to do a guest blog sometime on the inerrancy of Scripture, on the understanding that I think we are not going to be of one mind on this point?

    It is important that I point out that although the original post is of course by me, the first response to Alan above is NOT. I was tucked up in bed when Malachi Malagowther, a subscriber who sometimes comments on the blog, typed those words. Malachi is a pseudonym for Mark Wallace. Textual analysis may confirm differences of style, as well as Malachi’s much greater knowledge of Biblical archaeology. He is also the person mentioned who is particularly interested in the miltary exploits of Elhanan! Malachi thought that if he went on the site from his own email address, albeit from the home computer, the website would recognise who he was. It seems he was wrong.

  • Alan Darley

    15th May 2016 at 10:30 pm Reply

    Yes, I don’t mind doing that Penny. I will try and put something together.

  • Judith Renton

    15th May 2016 at 11:00 pm Reply

    An interesting discussion. I am intrigued, Alan, by what you mean as ‘inerrant’. If you say , as you do in point 2, that it is not divine dictation, how can you argue that that the Bible is in some way inerrant. The writers ‘voice’ clearly comes through in the different pieces of wring that make up the Bible, so their personalities – and therefore some of their own personal prejudices must be there. Their thoughts are shaped by their culture and experiences, and so we get, for example Paul’s personal, but not necessarily God’s views on various subjects.
    NT Wright says ““In the Bible all authority belongs to God and is delegated to Jesus. The risen Jesus doesn’t say “All Authority in heaven or hell is given to…the books you chaps are going to write.” He says, “All authority has been given to me.” The phrase ‘Authority of scripture’ can only, at its best, be a short-hand for the Authority of God in Jesus, mediated through scripture.” “Tim 3:16 says the Bible is God breathed and useful for teaching etc but I would argue that the words “God breathed” is not the same as ‘God dictated’ or ‘God written’. Instead the message was determined by God, but shaped in its speaking and writing down by people. Its message, authority and usefulness is not lessened, in the same way that Jesus, being fully human and fully divine, does not have any lessening of authority and quality. The verses show that the message of the ‘God breathed’ Bible sends the church out into the world to work on behalf of the gospel, transforming it and showing people the Kingdom of God is at hand. If we start pulling out bits of the Bible and using them as commands from God we miss most of the whole point. For example, proverbs are a collection of wise saying that were popular at the time, e g Prov 10:22 seems to be a proof text to argue for the prosperity Gospel – is God saying that God blesses us all with wealth without having to work hard – the flip side being if we are poor God has not blessed us? Of course not – its a saying! Bit like saying ‘too many cooks spoil the broth ‘, but also saying ‘ many hands make light work’ So when we read the Bible we need to remember that it is INSPIRED, but the meaning may be only relevant to the original hearers – we must be aware of the context, and the type of writing – peoetry, narrative, myth, letters etc. We don’t follow the command to not mix fibres together in our clothes – if the Bible was inerrant than presumably that means every word exists for now. It is a glimpse of what people believed – we have to work out what that may mean for us today, and we can’t simply say “It’s in the Bible so it must be right” We need to engage our brain!

    • Katherine

      9th January 2017 at 12:18 am Reply

      At last! Someone who unrdsstande! Thanks for posting!

    • autoversicherungen göppingen

      5th February 2017 at 6:34 pm Reply

      let’s keep it light and ironic then and let’s abandon these obscure tones. I think they already got your and our point, there’s no need in adding more misinterpretable material.looking forward to seeing you in Castellello,Mike

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