If you missed the first two parts of this series, I recommend reading them sequentially.
The Christian Religion is predicated on the claim that the Bible is the inerrant, inspired Word of God. The claim that the Bible was authored by God is almost always treated as the Christian’s sole source of credibility. “The Bible says…” forms the foundation of every doctrine, every belief, every religious practice. That being the case, the support for this claim is surprisingly lacking. The reality is that most Evangelical Christians take this claim at face value, vehemently defending the belief but having no idea whether or not it is supportable. Consider the following from Bob Luginbill at ichthys.com that typifies the beliefs of most Evangelicals (emphasis mine).
For me, the only reason to delve into the sorts of “proofs” that are generally mustered for canonicity is to reassure new believers that this book of books didn’t come out of nowhere. But the truth is that there is much that we don’t know about the specifics, and much more that we do know that all too many Christians are all too eager to disavow because it smacks of the miraculous…
The truth is that the Bible is the Bible, and that the books in the Bible are the books in the Bible. We are very blessed that they are indeed true and right and good – the very words and Word of God. I suppose that the controversies of the past served the purpose of at least putting this issue aside – except that the issue always seems to keep bubbling up again and again. Scripture is scripture because God so ordained it, inspired it, oversaw its writing, its publication, its distribution, and its preservation. We can easily tell that scripture is really scripture, just by reading it. Thus the burden of proof lies not upon those of us who know full well from experience that the Bible is unique in this world, but upon all those who would say that any portion of scripture is not really a part of the canon. I think you can see well enough that the arguments adduced here against the book’s canonicity are weak when one starts with the correct supposition that the book is legitimately part of the Bible.
In other words, “I’m so sure that I’m right that I don’t need to justify my conclusion. Anyone who disagrees with me must prove me wrong.” As Stuart Chase said, “For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who don’t believe, no proof is possible.” I’d love to hear Luginbill’s rationale for how one is supposed to accurately start with the correct supposition. My intent is not to pick on one Christian who obviously cares very much about God, but this mentality is typical. If God really is the author of the Bible, then the evidence should bear this out; there should be no reason for Christians to shrink from scrutiny on this issue. Consider these statements from David J. Stewart’s article “Salvation and the Word of God” at jesus-is-savior.com (again, emphasis mine):
Perhaps this is the greatest challenge of all for the soul-winner—trying to convince a person that the Bible is God’s Word. Once a person accepts the Bible as God’s Holy Word, then they are more likely to listen to what you have to say from the Bible…. You simply cannot be saved without believing the Bible is God’s inspired Holy Word.… Do you accept the Bible as God’s Word? You must examine the Holy Bible and make this decision for yourself, [sic] no one else can do it for you. Pray and ask God to open the eyes of your understanding. Salvation is a matter of the heart, [sic] let God’s Holy Word speak to your heart…. If we don’t believe the Bible, we are spitting on God…. Faith requires us to believe in spite of all doubts which we may have….
Again, we see the view that people must just believe that every word in the Bible is authored by God. Or else. No rationale given. Just a declaration that if you don’t accept the premise, you’ll go to hell. The belief that God directly authored a book on which one bases his religion must be a comforting thing, for it absolves one of the need to provide any sort of support for his claims. Certainly a belief this critical must have some rationale behind it besides “it just feels right.” The doctrine of the Salvation Army, sadly, offers little more justification as demonstrated in “God’s Inspiration (The Salvation Army Doctrine 1 – Sermon Series)” which is long on rhetoric and short on substance:
Let us begin with doctrine number one, the necessary foundation on which all other believes [sic] must be based on. Our first Doctrine then reads: ‘We believe that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament were given by inspiration of God and that they only constitute the divine rule of Christian faith and practice.’ It is important to understand that these doctrines are not statements that where merely dreamed up by our founder but they are rooted and indeed based on Biblical principles. In fact the direct interpretation for this doctrine is found in our scripture for today, 2 Timothy 3:16-17 where we read: All Scripture is given by inspiration of God…
The fact that Paul declares that scripture is inspired by God in no way answers the questions of why the 66 canonized books are legitimate, why books that are excluded are not legitimate, why the canon was closed with the book of The Revelation of John, why we have a canon in the first place, who decided the canon, and why “inspiration” means, verbal, plenary inspiration. If I may bastardize a popular Star Wars quote, “I find your lack of reason disturbing.”
In Part II of this series, I listed what I believe are the 12 primary reasons that some Christians use as rationale for why the 66 books of the Bible are the inerrant, verbally inspired Word of God. Let’s examine them one by one and see how credible each is.
1. The 66 canonical books present a coherent narrative of the history of the world’s origin, the “fall” of mankind, the Jewish people, and God’s plan to reconcile mankind to Himself.
– Accepted. Each of the 66 books of the Protestant canon, while not completely unified with each other (more on this in a future post), offers either history, prophecy, instruction, or poetry regarding the world in general, the Israeli people, the interaction of God with humans, human nature, the desire and plan of God to reconcile humanity to Himself, or how those that seek to follow God ought to live. This coherence, however, does not necessitate divine authorship. Nor did it prevent many believers over the years from questioning the inspiration of such books as Esther, Ecclesiastes, Hebrews, James, II Peter, or Revelation. Some apocryphal books are considered by some believers to be just as coherent.
2. The Bible is scientifically accurate in every regard.
– Rejected. The most glaring example of this is the Genesis author’s (Moses, presumably) declaration that God created a “firmament,” understood to be a dome which covered a flat earth, held back the “ocean of the sky,” upon which the stars were engraved, and within which the sun and moon travelled. This view was also held by David, Ezekiel, and Daniel. Some Christians shrug this off by saying the Hebrew word raqiya could just as easily be translated as “sky.” The word “sky” was not used in early translations for a reason. That reason is that the concept of a “firmament” that divided the waters below from the waters above was what was intended. This was the cosmological understanding of the ancient Hebrews. The concepts of “the foundations of the earth” and “the ends of the earth” are found throughout the Old Testament. Now, some Christians stridently argue that most of these references are used in a poetic manner (therefore such descriptions are intentionally hyperbolic and largely irrelevant) or are inconclusive because they don’t specifically refer to the earth as being flat. They may be correct, but it is highly unlikely. I would contend that they are forced into this interpretation by the assumption that the Bible is inerrant. If one does not start with that premise, then the one is free to try to determine the author’s intent, which is a necessary first step in understanding the books of the Bible. For those who are worried about the Bible’s credibility, I would offer that even if the author’s cosmological understanding is imperfect, the truth that the author is trying to convey is not diminished. But, if God verbally authored the Bible, it does not stand to reason that He would deliberately induce error.
… to be continued in Part IV.