Brandon Mouser has a great post on his blog and I wanted to continue to interact by posting this reply…it got a little long for a combox:
Basically, what I would point to is the idea that Scripture claims for itself the idea of being “theopneustos,” or “breathed out by God.” Bart Ehrman and others have erroneously postulated that thiswould have to mean that God dictated the Scriptures, much like many non-Christian sects claim their Scriptures were written. Instead, it points to divine agency being played out in the words used by human beings. This sort of inspiration is unique to the Scriptures, though the norm amongst biblical authors in the writings which were recognized by the Church as being authoritative.
I know that’s a controversial few sentences, so indulge me an illustration.
I have a favorite jazz clarinetist…his name is Artie Shaw. If you shuffle my jazz collection and hit play, I can identify Artie Shaw as a soloist without looking at the song title. It doesn’t even have to be a song I’ve ever heard before…I can tell just by listening that it’s Artie playing as opposed to Benny Goodman or Jimmy Dorsey. (All were excellent players in their own right.)
The same is with the Church. The Church heard the voice of her Lord in a unique way and recognized the Spirit’s breath in the writings of Scripture and these are the epistles, gospel accounts and prophecies which have come to us. This, I realize stands in direct contrast to the idea that the determination of the canon was a political move…but I would submit there is no actual historical evidence for such an assertion.
So the question is: can we know anything that happened prior to high-definition, high-speed cameras and the invention of the microphone? The kind of proof you seem to be looking for in your statement
In addition, we don’t have the original words spoken. We have recollection and oral tellings. It is literally impossible to reconstruct the original words in their exact use and entirety because we simply don’t have them
is a standard of proof that no one in any court of law demands in order to establish the actual events of an occurrence. Do the order of words change things? Not in Greek syntax they don’t…not in a substantively translatable way. Emphasis is sometimes conveyed in word order, but the idea that subjects come first and predicates later is something English has but is not found in Koine Greek.
It’s interesting to me that many who would say that they know what Christianity is because the Spirit has spoken to them are so quick to dismiss the agency of the Spirit in an external event or source. They would defend rather voraciously the idea that God has spoken to them…even in the mundane!…but deny the idea that God could or did reveal things in His word to others in another time and location.
So my question is (and this isn’t just to you, Brandon, though I am curious as to how you’d respond): What would Scripture look like, in your view, in order that you would want to see it as being completely authoritative? What ideas would be emphasized or left out of the existing text? Would it have been transmitted in a dictatory fashion? Would it not be a book at all, but a sort of mystical experience where you could see in your mind’s eye Jesus walking along the Emmaus road?
I ask none of this to be snarky, but out of a genuine interest. I’ve heard a great many people talk about why the Bible isn’t reliable, but very few discuss what it would take for the Bible to become reliable in someone’s mind.
I find nothing particularly controversial in your sentences other than the time of day they were posted! 🙂 I do think it’s time that we Evangelicals break with simplistic fundamentalism enough to recognize what you’ve said–that God did not dictate the New Testament in the way that Muslims claim the Koran or that Mormons claim their books were dictated, in fact the Holy Spirit inspired 4 accounts that sometimes contain slightly conflicting views on the events of Jesus life–much to their historical credit. That this God acted in real human history to produce these authoritative documents through the hands of sinful human beings does not undermine their authority but only demonstrates the truth which the documents testify–that the Word of God is not dead, He is risen from the grave! By reading Scripture He (the Word that was with God in the beginning) trains us to hear and recognize His voice today.
Yeah…I wrote that in one draft before breakfast. What a way to start the Lord’s Day, no? 😉
Brian Gerald said:
Herm, thoughts, in no particular order:
A) At the time 2 Timothy was written, neither that letter (obviously) nor the other Christian Bible documents were considered Scripture. The author, at best, was referring to the Hebrew scriptures. It’s also entirely possible that god-breathed/inspired was never intended to mean “everything in here is definitely true.” I think my pastor is inspired, and that Amazing Grace is inspired, and that the AA Big Book is inspired… do I think they are 100% completely factually true and beyond error? Nope.
A2) Trying to apply 2 Timothy’s bit about “god-breathed” to Christian scriptures is totally absurd: Christian Scripture is god-breathed because it says so in 2 Timothy… and know that it’s’ true because Christian scripture is god-breathed! It’s begging the question.
B) I take away something from the quotation than you are talking about. For me “we don’t have the original words spoken. We have recollection and oral tellings. It is literally impossible to reconstruct the original words in their exact use and entirety because we simply don’t have them” is not about word order or whether the subject precedes the verb. It’s about whether it’s god-breathed, or inspired by god, or reveals god nature, or dictated by god… It’s about whether a statement was intended as hyperbole as a rhetorical device or whether something was intended as a timeless proclamation. It’s about whether “thou shalt not kill” meant kill at all or murder. It’s about whether Jesus really overturned tables in the temple or whether that was a later addition.
C) One of the early Christian writers (Paul?) , in at least one place in the Christian scripture writes that he’s speaking from his own personal opinion and not on any official authority. So… That.