Recently I was asked if I thought the bible was the inerrant word of God. What they were asking is whether or not I believed that the bible could be wrong. I usually approach such discussions with much caution as I have learned over the years that when asked such a question, it is typically a trap. I responded by saying that the Word of God is not wrong, but how we interpret that word sometimes is. Then I went on to clarify my position. First off, the Word of God is Jesus Christ, and I get that from the Gospel of John right at the start. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God….” “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Second, the bible, as we know, it was assembled by a group of men trying to make a point. Let’s fact check that last statement.
The bible as we know it today was compiled round about the 5th century but a group of people representing all of the Christian churches known at that time. The Hebrew Scriptures, or what we would call the Old Testament, began to be written around the 8th century B.C. The Books of the New Testament began to be written around 50 A.D. with the Letters of St. Paul, who was not, by the way, and eye witness to the events that took place and never encountered Jesus. The first Gospel, that St. Mark, is believed to have been written in 70 A.D. or roughly 40 years after the death of Jesus.
Before the Letters of Paul and Gospels being written, what was passed along was oral tradition. This was not an uncommon practice in the first century. The early Church would gather together, coming from the Synagogue to someone’s home, where they would share a meal, and someone would tell a story about Jesus and what he had done. As I have already mentioned, these stories began to be written down round about 70 A.D.
Now, I want you to think about something. If I was to come down and whisper something in the ear of the first person here and tell them to pass it along, by the time it got back to me, what I said would be much different than when I first said it. We all put our spin on things, and that is not a bad thing, and the story gets adjusted and adapted over time by the influence we bring to the story.
The other thing to keep in mind is those who assembled the bible had hundreds if not thousands of writings to choose from, and they limited their selections to the 27 books we have today. We know, for example, there were hundreds of books and letters written by women but, none of those made it into the bible. As far as we know, the Gospel of John is the only one written by someone that witnessed the events that took place, and that Gospel is very different from the other three.
Now, as we know, the bible, as much as we would like to think it was, was not written in English. Greek and Hebrew are the original languages with a smattering of Aramaic and other languages in there. So what we read today is someone’s interpretation of what was written in an ancient language someone 2,000 years plus ago — starting to see my point?
So, let’s take this little history lesson a little further. The first English bible was written in 1604 and was translated from a copy of the bible. Keep in mind that the first printing press was not used until the 16th century, so the bible was copied by hand. Some minor changes might have happened along the way. But the interesting thing is, the 1604 bible is called the King James Bible and was commissioned by King James at the behest of the Puritan and Calvinist reformers. There might have been a little influence placed on the translators to make sure that the English version of the bible matched their theological position and went against others. The King James Version is a literary masterpiece and ranks up there with Shakespeare for its literary beauty and influence on the English Language.
All of this is to say that I do not believe that this book that we call the bible is in any way shape or form inerrant I do think that the folks who wrote all that stuff way back when had the right idea, but even John was writing 70 years after Jesus died, so I am sure some of the things he remembered were a bit fuzzy.
So, where does that leave us? I have said before, the bible is not a history book, nor is it a science book. The bible is a book that speaks of tradition and a way of life that can and should be a guiding principle in our lives. It’s a book written to a specific group of people at a particular time in history but can of application for today. We heard from St. Paul today, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” Keep in mind the “Scriptures” he was referring to were the five books of the law and the prophets and not what we would call the New Testament. When Paul was writing, the first Gospel had not even been written yet!
As I mentioned, the bible is a guidebook that needs to be interpreted and reinterpreted in the light of present-day circumstances. I believe that God is still speaking and reveals himself to each generation in a new way, and it is up to us to figure out what that way is. As a Christian, I believe that the “Word of God” is Jesus Christ, the man of Nazareth that left us with a way to follow and that all theological and moral belief needs to be reconciled with the words and deeds he left us with. When I or any other preacher and teacher interpret these words, I do so not only in the present time, but I also want to know what the Church has thought about this passage for the generations that came before me. The challenge is taking a 2,000-year-old document and making it relevant for today.
Last week I mentioned Thomas Jefferson removing the supernatural stuff from the bible as he thought it was a distraction from the moral message of Jesus Christ. These days, biblical scholarship has been reduced to cherry-picking verses that prove me right and you wrong rather than looking at the entirety of what has been written and making an application to life today. Rather than use God’s words to soothe and bring comfort amid the storm, we use God’s words as a weapon to divide and cause much harm to people.
St. Paul says this, “I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”
So how do we know what is sound doctrine? Does it match up with the words of Jesus Christ, that is my first and last arbiter of what is and is not sound doctrine. Even though I stated before that God is still speaking, God speaks with the same voice, and if it does not match up, it’s not God.
Our job is to be able to figure it all out. And with God’s help and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can do just that.