Course: A Guide to Christian Theology
This is the 4th lecture in the online series of lectures on a Guide to Christian Theology by Dr Breshears. Recommended Reading includes: Biblical References from the Course and Study Guides 1 – 39.
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I. The Inspired Word of God
When we think of Scripture, we think that it is God’s Word. The West Minister Confession puts it this way: ‘that the word of God wherein he providentially inspired and moved the human authors enabling them to receive and communicate according to their individual personalities and situations the truth that he would have his church know for his glory and human salvation.’ This is a classic definition of inspiration. In the Catholic catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 106 and 7, defines inspiration from a Roman Catholic perspective and it is virtually identical with very similar perspectives. This picture of the Holy Scripture as the inspired Word of God is really common. So the Holy Scripture is God’s Word, his speaking to us today.
II. Characteristics of Biblical Inspiration
Characteristics of Scripture include a term inerrant. This is a strange term somewhat of a double negative, ‘not with error’. This term in not in the Bible; what it says in the Bible in a number of different places is that the Bible is holy true. For example, Psalm 119 is to meditate on the Word of God and specifically verse 142 says that your righteousness is righteous forever, and your law is true. Again further in 151 the theme continues, but you are near O Lord, and all your commandments are true. In verse 160 it says that the sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever. Doctor Packer, a faithful teacher in the church, summarized inerrancy as being an advanced commitment to receive his truth from God with all Scripture as found on inspection actually to teach. So because of inerrancy I come to the Bible already committed to the idea that whatever it teaches is truth from God is utterly reliable. But it does not short circuit the hard work of doing the inspection of what the Bible actually teaches. What I have found in my own journey, I thought I knew what Scripture was saying and then with conversations from someone with a different perspective, I realized that I missed something. So I have these conversations with Christians who are committed to the truth of Scripture and some who are not. However, the whole idea is try to understand what the Bible actually says. Because if I have a misunderstanding of what the Bible says, I want to get that fixed; I am not committed to tradition. I am committed to Scripture. In the beginning I began to be more Calvinistic than I am now because the Bible has given me somewhat of a different model. I want to have my commitment to the truth of Scripture. I want my understanding to be constantly reformed by the inerrancy of Scripture. So to say it again, everything that the Bible teaches is truth from God.
III. The Bible Uses Ordinary Language
I also want to say that the Bible speaks in ordinary language most of the time. For example, Jesus feeds 5,000 people the first time. What would happen if I went back and counted that crowd and I discovered that there were 4,912 people there? Would I say that Bible made a mistake? No, of course not; five thousand by its nature is a round number. However if the Bible listed it as 4,913 people, then there would be a mistake because 4,913 is an exact number. So the Bible speaks in ordinary language. In regards to Peter’s sermon at Pentecost; I am convinced that Peter said more than that. It was an accurate summary of a much longer sermon. It talks about the four corners of the world in the Old Testament; this doesn’t mean that the world has four corners. This is an idiomatic way of saying ‘to the end of the world’. So this brings to mind the level of precision of Biblical statements. And some of these can be difficult to understand exactly in that is it may be a scientific statement.
IV. Inerrancy and History
So are there problems of inerrancy or things that seem to be not true? One thing that is often commented on is the Biblical picture of marriage and family being antiquated and repressive. But looking at the sociological data, the happiest people are those who have a typical Biblical marriage. Those who say they want to me free usually end of broken and sad and disappointed. So the ideal marriage ends up being a typical Biblical marriage in terms of satisfaction. Of course, one of the very controversial issues is homosexuality. The Biblical teaching of any sexual actions outside of Biblical marriage is not God’s design. The idea of God’s teaching on Biblical marriage is truth from God and will be the most happiest and fulfilled.
Are there problems with the truth of Scripture as compared to history for example? Yes, there are a few. One of them had to do with Jericho, the city that the Hebrews raised as they conquered the Promised Land. The very best archaeologists in the 1950s came to the conclusion that Jericho was inhabited up to about 1600 BC, then it was uninhabited until about 1200 BC and then it was inhabited again. The Biblical time frame of the Hebrew nation entered Palestine was about the middle of that period. So what is the answer? We don’t know. Well, in 1990 Brain Wood and his team went into Jericho and dug in a different area of the city; they discovered a thick layer of ash which indicates a battle mixed with grain and pottery with writing on it. They were able to date the pottery, the ash and the writings and all three came to be 1440 BC. I think what happened is that the earlier archaeologists were digging in part of the city that wasn’t inhabited at that time. So there are a few places where Biblical history and archaeological findings are still in conflict, but not very many.
Another difficulty is the numbers in the Book of Numbers. They seem to be too large by at least a factor of ten. A friend of mine did a commentary of numbers and he wanted to understand the problem with these numbers. He ended up saying that they were big because they were ‘power numbers’. The way to communicate in that world; you take a number and increase it by ten or more in order to communicate accuracy in that world. So we today, we read that in today’s filter. So is this the answer? We don’t know. I just know that the numbers are big compared to the archaeological data. So that it could be a power number or the archaeological findings are wrong. My idea is that those are most likely power numbers. For one of the concretes you can look in 2nd Chronicles 14, it talks about a battle where a million people fight six hundred thousand people in a valley that isn’t very big. No battle in history has had a million people to fight in it, ever. So again, I think those number are power numbers. So the teachings of the Bible are absolutely trustworthy but we have to interpret it correctly and there are some places we are not quite sure what it is saying. We have to somewhat humble in these areas to make sure we say what the Bible teaches. They are a few places like this.
So to sum things up, what the Bible teaches is to be received as truth from God, completely trustworthy in everything it says. There is an incredible accuracy of the Bible compared to the findings of Archaeological data and history. Actually, most of the arguments against Scripture are when the Bible says something and there is nothing like that in the archaeological record. It is not that the Bible is wrong, archaeologists has yet to find data to support it. The priority has always ended up with what the Bible teaches. So when we talk about inerrancy, we are not just talking about the factual statements of Scripture, we are also talking about the moral commands and promises of Scripture. A lot of times in the discussion of inerrancy people are only looking at factual statements such as historical scientific statements. But some of the most important things are the moral commands. For example, in Romans 12 where it says to overcome evil with good; this is a really powerful command. So we include in the teachings of Scripture, things are factual, moral and promises all together and so we have confidence in what the Bible actually teaches to be received as truth from God. That is the concept of the truthfulness or inerrancy of Scripture.