In the last article, we began to see how we could think about the Bible as having integrity both as the Word of God and as the words of men; and that while the Bible is the words of men, it remains – as the Word of God – without error. In this, the Bible is an utterly unique book, and we reject all sense of trying to read it as we would any other book. To do so would involve an implicit denial of its inspiration. It would be to approach the Bible as if in fact it hadn’t been ‘breathed-out’ by God (II Tim.3:16). This is something we could not, and indeed should not, tolerate as the people of God. In our apparent attempt to be ‘neutral’ we would in fact be making a profound theological statement…
But back to the topic in hand: we have seen how we can think of the Bible as without error, even though it has been written through men. But why is it important that we do so. Would it not be wiser to acknowledge that everything written by human hands is bound to contain error at some level, perhaps arguing that the Bible is only without error on the important and central stuff? At the very least we might have to concede that it was written by 1st Century Christians, and that this inevitably affects what they wrote and why. We could suggest they got some stuff wrong, without impugning their integrity. Might that not be a better way of thinking about the Bible? Many Christians do in fact think about Scripture in this way, hence the number of conversations and sermons in which we are told we need to have some understanding of 1st Century Middle (or Near) Eastern culture before we can understand what’s going on in the Bible. Because the Bible is written by human hands, we are told that we are only intellectually credible if we concede that there are limitations. There are also those who are quite open to the possibility (if not reality) that the Bible contains errors. I’ve even heard people say that Jesus was so bound by His cultural humanity that He – speaking as a first-century Jew – said things that we would now dismiss as mistaken.
This will not do. We saw in our last article that the Bible is not merely a human book. It is also a Divine book. And the human and Divine aspects of the producing of the Bible interact in such a way that the finished product is without error. The Church has long since realised that what is at stake in this discussion is the trustworthiness of God. The question: ‘Can I trust the Bible?’ is in fact a question about whether God wants to, and/or whether He is able to reveal Christ by His Spirit in a way that entirely truthful and reliable. We see this to be the case even within the narrative of the Bible itself. So, for example, we are exhorted to test prophets; and indeed there are monumental clashes between true and false prophets (Jer.28); weare called on again and again to identify and
ignore people who do not represent God and the Gospel faithfully (Gal.1:6-9). Clearly it matters to God that He is heard and understood when He reveals Himself. It is not just the fact of revelation that we are convinced of, but the accuracy and therefore the trustworthiness of the content of that revelation. It matters hugely that the picture of Jesus we draw from the pages of Scripture correlates with who Jesus actually is, what He actually said, what He actually did. After all, Christian faith is about putting out trust in Christ, and in Christ as He is revealed in the writings of Scripture. Any relationship is critically if we discover that the person we are relating to is not who we thought they were. Much more is this the case in our relationship with Christ. The trustworthiness of the text of the Bible is tied to the trustworthiness of the God behind the text.
Take, as another example, the giving of the Law at Sinai. Surely there must be intrinsic reliability in Moses’ conveying the Law of God to Israel. How could we relate to a God who allowed there to be error or ambiguity in the communication of commandments which in some cases were literally a matter of life and death? When you consider the extent to which God held His people culpable in breaking His Law, it is fatal to suggest that the record of the Law might not be historically accurate. Can we really worship a God who allows the communication of his Law to be corrupted and then holds people responsible for their failure to know and follow it faithfully? There is an unbreakable connection with our doctrine of God, the words of God as presented in the Bible, and the actions of God to which those words bear witness.
To put it negatively, once we concede the possibility of error in the text of the Bible, we lose all foundation for our faith. This could be demonstrated by taking any example from the Gospels. If we think in principle they might not be accurate in what it teaches us about Jesus, we immediately lose any confidence in the character of God as revealed through Jesus. Did Jesus really pronounce forgiveness of sins (Matthew 9:5-6)? Did He really calm the storm; or walk on water; or feed the 5,000? And what kind of God would be satisfied leaving us with such an uncertain witness to His Son? Could such a God, a God unwilling or unable to reveal Himself with clarity and faithfulness, be worthy of our worship? Could such a God be trusted? Could we know He will forgive us if we thought those passages in the Bible where we are taught such things might be erroneous? No – we need a foundation firm enough for us to stake our eternal destinies on. An uncertain revelation is perhaps more dangerous than no revelation at all. The Scriptures are written by human hands, but not merely by human hands. Therein lies our confidence.