The Christian Religion is based on the premise that The Bible is the Word of God. This view offers comfort to many Christians, but also presents some difficulties that seldom get fair treatment. Understanding how God has communicated with man is fundamental to our understanding of God and His desire to reconcile us to Himself. Because the claim that the Bible is the Word of God is usually stipulated rather than supported, my intent is to take a close look at the rationale for why Christians believe the Bible to be the Word of God. As this discussion is too long for one post, I will break it up into a multi-part series.
As always, words mean things. Frequent misunderstandings occur when two people use the same term but have a different understanding of that term. To frame the discussion, here is a list of terms and definitions as they are commonly understood:
- word: message or communication
- Word: Capitalized to connote God’s direct message or communication to mankind
- inspired: Comes from Paul’s second letter to Timothy. The Greek word used is theopneustos, which, according to Strong, means “divinely breathed in.” Commonly referred to as “God-breathed.”
- inerrant: without error in any regard
- verbal: Every single word as it was written in the original language, was written exactly as intended by God.
- plenary: complete. The 66 books of the Bible are the entirety of God’s revelation to mankind. They contain everything that God desires to reveal to us. Therefore, the Bible should be our sole authority for faith and practice. Nothing after the book of Revelation is to be considered verbally inspired by God.
- canon: the list of books widely accepted as inspired by God and therefore considered to be “scripture” or sacred writings
- Preservation: the idea that the books of the Bible have been preserved largely unaltered, so that we can be confident that, with perhaps a little research into the original languages, we hold the Word of God in our hands today.
These definitions are rudimentary, and volumes could be written about the nuances of each; but they should suffice for our purpose.
I do not intend to discuss the various families of texts on which English translations are based. This is a worthwhile endeavor, but falls outside the scope of this discussion. Nor do I intend to discuss the various apocryphal writings other than in the most general sense, as there are quite a few of these books that have varying degrees of credibility. Various groups use different sets of apocryphal books, and they each hold different books in various states of regard. The opinions on the apocryphal books range from Scripture to useful-but-not-Scripture to heretical. Neither will this discussion delve deeply into the controversies surrounding several books now considered to be part of the canon of Scripture. I plan to limit this discussion to the 66 books of the canon of Scripture, as defined by most Evangelicals.
Here is the basic Evangelical view of inspiration:
The 66 books of The Bible are the inerrant, inspired word of God. The Scriptures were given by the verbal, plenary inspiration of the Holy Spirit to human scribes whose unique writing style was retained as part of God’s design. The collection of sacred books is complete. Nothing more is to be added, and the compiled “Bible” contains everything God wants us to know about Him in this life. Because it is indirectly authored by God, the Bible is entirely without error and is intended (with some caveats regarding specific promises to specific people) for every human that lives (or lived) after its writing. The Bible is authoritative, and is the Christian’s sole authority for faith and practice.
This is the narrative I was taught growing up. When I asked questions about Biblical issues that didn’t seem to fit with the narrative, the answers generally boiled down to, “It’s God’s work, and He can do what He wants. He doesn’t owe us an explanation for what He does.” Sometimes the answer was, “We just have to take it on faith.” Sometimes the answer was “I don’t know,” which is at least an honest answer. All three of these answers are acceptable to the extent that people hold them in good faith and are candid about their limitations. We must realize though, that to assume a proposition or to infer a conclusion and then tell others that they are required to agree with you is disingenuous and manipulative.
In the following parts of this series, we will examine the reasons given for the conclusion that the Scriptures are inerrant and verbally inspired and see if they are based on evidence. If God truly wrote every word of the Bible (66 books) and every word is true, then the evidence will bear that out. If the evidence indicates otherwise, then we will evaluate it and draw as reasonable a conclusion as we can. For those who are interested in this topic but have not given it much thought, I encourage you to research this issue for yourself and not simply rely on tradition or the opinions of others.