Reasons for Believing the Bible is God’s Word

Reasons for Believing the Bible is God’s Word

Whenever I talk about biblical inerrancy or the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit (as the basis for believing the Bible to be God’s Word) the same questions arise. People ask: 1) How can I trust the Bible to be true theologically if there are any errors in it? and 2) How does the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit escape sheer subjectivism?

Here are my answers.

1) If you are depending on the Bible’s alleged inerrancy (strictly interpreted as no mistakes however minor) to believe the Bible’s theological message (gospel truth), you are in deep trouble from the start.

First, common sense says that a person or book does not have to be flawless in every detail in order to be true and authoritative in its main subject. Hardly any textbook meets the standard of strict inerrancy. Probably none do. And yet some, at least, are considered authoritative and trustworthy. My wife loves me; that I do not doubt. However, she sometimes does things that seem inconsistent with true love. So what? In the whole and in the main, for almost forty years, she has shown me love. Am I to doubt her love for me because occasionally during those years she has said things or done things inconsistent with perfect love? Not. (I should really turn this around and talk about my love for her in spite of doing things inconsistent with love. I’m the one much more guilty of that than she! But the point is the same.)

Second, everyone knows and admits that if the Bible is inerrant, it was only in the original autographs, not in any existing Bible (even the best reconstructed Hebrew and Greek manuscripts). Therefore, any existing Bible is untrustworthy as to its entire content? Hardly.

Third, and this will lead into the second question and answer, belief in the Bible’s inerrancy requires faith precisely because only the original autographs can be believed to have been absolutely, technically inerrant. So, it is possible, even easy, to have faith in the truth of the Bible’s theological content, its “Sache” (theological message), even if one does not believe in its inerrancy. Both require faith. Faith in one does not depend on faith in the other.

2) There is no proof of the Bible’s supernatural inspiration, absolute truth, authority other than “the demonstration of the Spirit and power” (Lessing). Without the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit, doubts about the Bible’s truth and authority will always arise because there is no rational proof. There are, of course, internal and external evidences, but they do not add up to proof. If you base your belief in the truth and authority of the Bible on its internal and external evidences, your belief will always be shaky and vulnerable to new discoveries in historical and archeological research. As I like to say, you will have to await each new issue of Biblical Archeology to know whether you can still believe the Bible to be God’s Word (apart from faith).

As I said above, belief in the Bible’s inerrancy requires faith—faith in the inerrancy of the original autographs that do not exist.

I challenge anyone to provide a knock-down, drag-out, absolute, air tight proof of the Bible’s status as God’s Word without any appeal to anything “subjective” such as the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit and (which is the same thing) faith.

Finally, if you base your belief in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord on the truth status of the Bible rather than the other way around (basing its truth on its power to transform through relationship with Jesus Christ), you are risking idolatry. Jesus is the “Sache” of Scripture. Luther knew it as did Calvin. But fundamentalists and neo-fundamentalists put Scripture over Jesus when they try to make belief in him as Savior and Lord dependent on the inerrancy of the Bible. The Bible, then, becomes the gift in place of Jesus Christ. It should be (and is) the other way around—Jesus is the gift. The Bible is simply the Christmas-wrapped box that delivers him to us. I believe in the Bible’s truth and authority because of him. But that in no way requires belief in absolute, technical, detailed accuracy of every statement of Scripture.

It seems to me that people who insist that Christian faith depends on the inerrancy of the Bible and/or rational proofs of its inspiration ought to sing “My hope is built on nothing less than Scripture and its inerrancy….” Or “My faith has found a resting place in evidence that demands a  verdict….”

Having said all that, I will go on to say that there is a vast difference between the Bible and other so-called “holy books.” The difference between the Bible and others book people claim to be inspired is a difference in kind, not just in degree. The Bible only is supernaturally inspired and authoritative for Christian belief (doctrine). Other books for which people make that (or similar) claim are, in opinion, unworthy of it as they contain not only errors but simple nonsense. Of course, I can’t prove that to their adherents, but to anyone open-minded enough to investigate them objectively, their lacking the normative dignity of the Bible is easy to show. That is the role of apologetics—not to prove the Bible is the Word of God (let alone inerrant) but to show its superiority to competitors. Emil Brunner called this “eristics”—the task of comparing world views with the aim of showing that Christianity (and I would add the Bible) is superior in addressing the human condition and revealing God’s solution.

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  • http://www.gurrydesign.com/ Peter G.

    “Second, everyone knows and admits that if the Bible is inerrant, it was only in the original autographs, not in any existing Bible (even the best reconstructed Hebrew and Greek manuscripts). Therefore, any existing Bible is untrustworthy as to its entire content? Hardly.”

    I’m so glad to hear you say this. I have been making this argument for some time now and usually I get furrowed brows when I make it. I gladly affirm inerrancy, but I think this is a bad argument for it and it needs to be jettisoned.

    That said, I think you’re responding to the weaker version of the “subjective criticism” (for lack of a better term) of non-inerrancy. The stronger version is more along the lines of “What gives you the authority to distinguish wrong parts that don’t matter from wrong parts that do?” At it’s best, the subjective criticism is not so much an epistemological one, but an authority one. Who are you to make such crucial distinctions? At least as I wrestle with it. But I’d be interested in your response to that.

    • rogereolson

      But I don’t have any authority. I speak only for myself. If others agree, fine. If they don’t, I have no problem with that so long as they don’t go on a crusade against me or start an inquisition.

      • http://www.gurrydesign.com/ Peter G.

        So you have no problem with someone disagreeing with your conclusions? Then why make them?

        • rogereolson

          I don’t even understand that question. But I’ll try to answer anyway. I have no problem with someone who disagrees with me which doesn’t stop me from trying to persuade him or her I’m right. Does that answer?

  • Steve Dominy

    Dr. Olson,
    You can’t see it but I am jumping up and down in joyful agreement with your two most recent posts! W00-hoo! I keep up with the blog even if I rarely comment. Thanks and keep up the good work!

    • rogereolson

      Thanks Steve. Don’t break something. :)

  • http://www.anthonyemily.com Anthony Parrott

    Thank you for this post. It is very helpful.

    Throughout my home schooling as a high schooler (which came from a independent, Fundamentalist Baptist tradition), I was taught the “poisoned pumpkin patch” analogy. Briefly, a thief keeps going to a farmer’s pumpkin patch and stealing pumpkins. The farmer responds by poisoning one pumpkin, known only to him, and then posting a sign that says, “Dear Thief, I’ve poisoned one of these pumpkins.” The thief, not knowing which one is poisoned, never steals one again.

    The analogy was then drawn to Scripture, that if one verse is “poisoned” with error then the whole of Scripture cannot be trusted since we don’t know what’s true and what’s not.

    My question, then, is how you would respond to this form of argument?

    • rogereolson

      Jesus is the Great Pumpkin? :)

    • Casey Glass

      I would respond by saying that this analogy puts the cart before the horse.

      I believe in the Bible as a result of believing in Jesus. I believe in Jesus because of my personal experience of him, the testimony and experiences of those I love and trust, the testimony of the history of the church, and the testimony of those who knew and experienced him as recorded in the Gospels. The Bible has authority because it links to Jesus, not the other way around.

      As a result it does no damage to my faith to say “I think that verse does not mean what we have taken it to mean up to now” or when I learn that this or that verse is different in this or that translation. The testimony of the Bible remains the same.

    • John Inglis

      My question is how does anyone with that view get through life?

      For example, if your homeschooling material had even one error, how can you possibly trust any of that material? If their parents have ever told them one thing wrong, how can they ever trust their parents again?

  • Tim Reisdorf

    Roger,

    Brilliantly said. In this scientific era, people want scientific proof to the faith questions they have. Faith answers will not conform themselves to scientific models very easily. Looking for chariots under the Red Sea or The Ark on mountains in Turkey might be very interesting, but offer neither certain proofs nor disqualifying lack of evidence.

    I especially like your view of apologetics – but will in-arguably lead to offense . . . . (Well, the gospel is an offense to all, to Jews and Greeks both.)

    -Tim

    • rogereolson

      I’m all for apologetics so long as it doesn’t claim to be able to prove things that are unprovable or replace faith.

      • Bev Mitchell

        From Chapter 1 in Apologetics 101:

        But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”

  • icthusiast

    “Second, everyone knows and admits that if the Bible is inerrant, it was only in the original autographs, not in any existing Bible (even the best reconstructed Hebrew and Greek manuscripts).”

    I’ve never been able to understand the appeal of appealling to the ‘original autographs’. I certainly believe that God ‘could’ have ensured that every original word written was exactly as he alone chose. Similarly I believe that God ‘could’ have preserved that text completely error free through any number of copying events. Textual evidence shows that God was not concerned about the latter. To me, that is ample evidence that he was not necessarily concerned about the former.

    I’ve never heard a reasonable counter argument to that. Anyone?

    • http://exploringthefaith.com Curt Parton

      Part of the purpose of an appeal to the original is to avoid a fundamentalist, KJV-only kind of view. It forces us to return to the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts for the definitive, authoritative text of Scripture.

      Many would say that God has indeed preserved the original readings through the incredibly large number of manuscripts to which we can refer. There is less than 1% of the NT text that is in question, and no teaching rests solely on any of these passages. Where the text is uncertain, we know it. This gives us great confidence that what we’re reading (in everything but the few passages that are not yet determined) accurately conveys what was originally written. A meaningful, practical view of inerrancy simply does not require an absolute 100% certainty of every word and phrase in the manuscripts we currently have available. To argue against inerrancy by claiming such is to argue against a straw man. The readings that we’re not sure of do not somehow make the rest of the text errant. And don’t forget that the uncertain readings in Scripture are not just communicating historical information; many, if not most, of them are teaching spiritual truth. If these textual uncertainties disprove inerrancy, then they disprove infallibility as well.

      • rogereolson

        They don’t disprove inerrancy; they make it unprovable and even rationally unsupportable. My point is that belief in the the Bible’s inerrancy requires faith just as does belief in the Bible’s inspiration and authority. I have had no faith experiences with the Bible to convince me it is inerrant. In fact, my own study of church history leads me to believe the contemporary conservative evangelical doctrine of inerrancy is based on Enlightenment thinking, not on faith.

        • http://exploringthefaith.com Curt Parton

          They don’t disprove inerrancy; they make it unprovable and even rationally unsupportable.

          How so? I don’t see how this logically follows. (Of course, we don’t seek to “prove” inerrancy any more than we seek to prove infallibility, inspiration, the resurrection, or the love of God; but inerrancy can be disproven.) Inerrancy can be refuted by the existence of unambiguous error in what we know to be the original reading of Scripture. How do a very small percentage of uncertain readings make inerrancy rationally unsupportable? We don’t have exhaustive knowledge of God, but we confidently accept the truth that he loves us. Do the things we don’t know about God call into question the absolute reliability of what we do know of him? Is an absolute belief in God’s love rationally unsupportable? Then how can the few passages where we’re not sure of the precise reading make the absolute reliability of the Scriptures of which we’re certain irrelevant or somehow rationally unsupportable? How is this conclusion logical?

          I don’t think any Christian would argue against the idea that our view of the Bible requires faith. The question is whether that faith is warranted. I believe in the inerrancy of Scripture because I’ve become convinced by a number of factors. If the Scriptures are not inerrant, I could accept logically that they are well-intentioned, highly valuable—but fallible—writings of godly men. I’m open to considering the idea that the Scriptures can contain historical and cosmological error and still be theologically infallible, but I have yet to hear any solid reasons to believe this. So far, to me the idea that factually erroneous writings should be accepted as God-breathed, theologically infallible Scripture strains credulity.

          I commented below regarding the idea that the concept of inerrancy can be attributed to Enlightenment thinking. I would just say again that I encourage anyone who’s interested in the church’s historical view of the authority of Scripture to read both The Authority and Interpretation of the Bible: An Historical Approach by Jack Rogers and Donald McKim and Biblical Authority: A Critique of the Rogers/McKim Proposal by John Woodbridge.

          • rogereolson

            I think we’ve both said everything about this subject now. You’ve repeated your recommendation of readings. So let’s move on. My time for reading and re-reading the same arguments is limited.

    • Donald Fisher

      icthusiast:

      One reason for appeal to the original autographs is a practical one: the transmission and translation of the biblical text is subject to human frailty. Because of this fact, and the fact that we believe the biblical record is the written word of God, we ought to be diligent in our efforts to determine what the original text was and then to produce the most accurate versions of that text.
      But if the original writings were tainted with error from the very outset there’s little to be gained from such efforts. Why be concerned about copyist errors if the orignal was corrupted to begin with?

      On a more theoretical note, if the inspiration of the Holy Spirit failed to oversee the biblical writers in such a way that their words conveyed the very word of God without error, in what sense is Scripture infallible? The orthodox understanding of infallibility tends to morph into something akin to “Scripture will infallibly accomplish what God intends”. Or again, if the original authors were in fact confused or just plain mistaken in what they wrote, on what basis do we validate the information they recorded as to its truthfulness?

      • rogereolson

        Neither you nor others who agree with you here are answering the question: If biblical authority depends on inerrancy, how is it the case that any existing Bible is authoritative? In that case, it’s not. Only the original autographs would be authoritative.

        • http://exploringthefaith.com Curt Parton

          I’ve addressed this more than once in my comments (and this is frequently discussed by inerrantists). To the extent that any existing Bible accurately reflects the known original reading (which is not in debate for most of Scripture), to that extent it is authoritative. I don’t see the big controversy here. And the challenge would be the same for an infallibilist—unless you teach uncertain readings as authoritative, infallible Scripture. We all have to deal with textual uncertainties. The inerrantist simply does not require 100% certainty in every word or phrase in Scripture, and this uncertainty does not in any way call into question the vast majority of Scripture of which we (Christians, not inerrantists) are confident. I fail to see how this argument challenges inerrancy (except in an extreme, folk-religion form).

          • rogereolson

            The traditional argument goes like this: Scripture is God’s Word, God cannot lie, therefore Scripture must be inerrant. (I have this directly from Carl F. H. Henry in personal correspondence and it is the syllogism easily discernible in most inerrantist literature.) The problem with the syllogism is threefold: 1) It does not take into account the actual phenomena of Scripture (it is strictly deductive); 2) It assumes a certain view of inspiration (excluding dynamic views that emphasize the human role in Scripture’s production); 3) It has to mean by “Scripture” (in the conclusion) the original autographs only. There’s another syllogism that usually goes along with the first one: In order for Scripture to be authoritative it must be inerrant, Scripture is authoritative (because it is God’s Word), therefore Scripture must be inerrant. That syllogism has problems, too. It assumes that “authoritative” and “inerrant” belong necessarily together. They don’t–in everyday experience. It also results in only the original autographs being authoritative.

          • Robert F

            Carl, how do you KNOW that the parts that have been corrupted did not contain essential doctrine necessary for salvation? I mean, how do you know that the parts that are in question, which you say are very few and not ones that are the sole basis for any doctrine, didn’t actually contain at least a fragment of information absolutely necessary for salvation? And is it really true that the story in John 8, about the woman caught in the act of adultery, a passage which does not exist in the oldest authorities and is therefore unlikely to have been in the original autographs, is really not essential to Christian moral theology because its moral content is duplicated elsewhere in Scripture? Where is it duplicated?

        • Donald Fisher

          Actually, Dr. Olson, I was answering the question asked by icthusiast which was regarding why appeal is made to inerrancy only for the original autographs.

          Now, as for your question: it seems obvious to me that if Scripture contains errors in its original autographs then its authority is conditional. If it is unreliable in what it records, reports, affirms or teaches, then something else must be brought into play to validate the truthfulness of what it says. There is another factor which actually becomes the authority. When I look to see whether what seems obvious to me has any substantiation in the way Jesus and those he taught looked at Scripture, I find them presupposing that what Scripture taught was true because it was the word of God without error. Their attitude is that whatever the authors meant to say by the words they used, they present us with the truth of God. There is no indication that any scriptural statement required validation from another source. Jesus and the apostles affirm that what the Bible says, God says. Because accuracy is inherent in scripture, it is to be received as the final authority. This is the outlook presented in the New Testament by Jesus and his disciples. As a follower of Jesus, I am willing to accept his perspective (regardless of either difficulties it raises or my subjective sense of affirmation based on personal experience).

          The Bible we have in our hands, in whatever translation, has a derived authority. As I mentioned previously, it is precisely because I believe in the inerrancy of the original autographs that the efforts to discover errors in the transmission of the text and to produce as accurate a translation as possible matter. But our ultimate appeal is to the purest ascertainable text of the original languages of Scripture. To the degree that the current translation we use conforms to the text of the original languages it is authoritative. The Bible doesn’t lose its inspiration and authority by being translated (unlike the Qur’an).

          By the way, the concept of inerrancy is not as recent as you suggest. Speaking of the Scriptures, Augustine wrote “For I confess to your Charity that I have learned to yield this respect and honour only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error” and later he reiterates the point, saying that he is “bound to yield such implicit subjection as to follow [the Scriptures’] teaching, without admitting the slightest suspicion that in them any mistake or any statement intended to mislead could find a place.” (Letter 82 to St. Jerome, 1:3 and 3:24).

          • rogereolson

            Yet Augustine interpreted Scripture freely to avoid problems of possible errors in it. (He admitted that the “days” of creation might be eras.) I admitted that the church fathers probably thought Scripture inerrant (most of them probably thought it was dictated by God). But they interpreted it allegorically which completely frees one from having to deal with discrepancies. (I could raise the question of Augustine’s authority in light of how he interpreted Romans 5:12, but I’ll let that pass for now.) How many lay people who are constituents of strong inerrantist teachers (biblical scholars, theologians) know that they believe that the Bibles they have in their hands, homes and pews are only have a “derived authority” which necessarily means “relative authority” (at least in this case)?

  • Eluros Aabye

    Thanks for this post, Dr. Olson. It’s very enlightening and does a thorough job of addressing many of the issues.

    One thing I don’t believe you addressed: why is the doctrine of the inerrancy of scripture a matter worthy of faith? Would you consider scripture to claim itself to be inerrant? Is it a historical matter? A creedal matter?

    It’s often been unclear to me where the source of the doctrine comes from. I know you’re busy, but if you have a chance to respond or link to another post, I’d greatly appreciate it. Thanks.

    ~Eluros

    • rogereolson

      I can’t do better than recommend a classic book on the subject: Jack Rogers and Donald McKim, The Authority and Interpretation of the Bible: An Historical Approach (Harper & Row). I would say that most Christians until the modern age considered the Bible (whatever canon they accepted) infallible and maybe they would have said also “inerrant.” The problem is they differed considerably over what that meant. Luther thought the Bible was dictated by God, but he felt free to disagree with portions of it (e.g., James’ emphasis on works). The early church fathers such as Origen believed the Bible was dictated by God but interpreted it (especially the Old Testament) allegorically which relieved them of having to deal with apparent errors.

      • Eluros Aabye

        Thanks so much for the recommendation! It’s a shame that it looks to be out of print and very expensive (for new copies) on Amazon. I may pick one up around the holidays. In the meantime, there looks to be some good discussion of that book in particular online. Hopefully I’ll be able to get the gist through some poking around.

      • http://exploringthefaith.com Curt Parton

        Dr. Olson, are you familiar with John Woodbridge’s response in Biblical Authority? His critique seemed to be devastating to the claims of Rogers and McKim, showing them to have taken their quotes out of context—very badly out of context in many instances.

        • rogereolson

          Of course. I lived through that controversy. In the end, however, I judge that Rogers and McKim’s overall view is accurate even if some of the details are wrong. That is to say, their book is not inerrant, but it is more correct than the inerrantists’ view (of the history of that doctrine). One can find competing claims about the Bible in Luther and Calvin and the other Reformers (to say nothing of the church fathers). Overall and in general, as a historian of Christian theology, I conclude that the contemporary conservative evangelical doctrine of biblical inerrancy stems more from the Enlightenment (and reactions to it) than from the Great Tradition of Christian belief and teaching about the Bible.

          • http://exploringthefaith.com Curt Parton

            Dr. Olson, I deeply appreciate your work. I use The Story of Christian Theology in our church’s leadership development classes. But this is one area where I would respectfully disagree. I would encourage anyone who’s interested to read both Rogers’ and McKim’s book and Woodbridge’s book. IMO, Woodbridge makes a much stronger case. But then, I’m neither inerrant nor infallible! :)

      • http://www.mariuslombaard.net Marius

        wouldn’t you agree that allegorizing the text has it’s own issues? i must say, i recently tend to agree with Graeme Goldsworthy that allegorizing the text does very little in terms of informing us of the author’s original intent.

        it may work in educating toddlers about the christian faith, but allegorizing the five stones David picked up to slay Goliath refer to prayer, reading your bible, humility etc etc… is a little foolish.

        or am I missing something in the argument?

        • rogereolson

          After all the fuss about feminism I don’t remember! :) Let me think. I think my point was that the early church fathers didn’t struggle with errors in Scripture because they allegorized anyway. I wasn’t endorsing allegorical interpretation.

          • http://www.mariuslombaard.net Marius

            oh ok, thanks for allegorising :)

          • http://www.mariuslombaard.net Marius

            oh ok, thanks for clearing that up :)

  • http://www.cse.buffalo.edu/~regan/ Kenneth W. Regan

    A helpful point here is that “perfection” does not necessarily mean optimization. As cited by Wikipedia’s page on the word, Aristotle himself distinguished three senses: the perfect is that

    1. which is complete — which contains all the requisite parts;
    2. which is so good that nothing of the kind could be better;
    3. which has attained its purpose.[4]

    The last is most literally the Greek equivalent term “teleoites”. The Latin etymology is “finished”, as in the “perfect tense” in grammar for completed actions. I break it further down as per-fecto, “through-done”, meaning thorough, sufficient.

  • J.E. Edwards

    Hey Roger, your statement, “…if you base your belief in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord on the truth status of the Bible rather than the other way around (basing its truth on its power to transform through relationship with Jesus Christ), you are risking idolatry.” This is a perspective that becomes confusing to me. Of course, I do come from a more fundamental approach, but this seems at best confusing and at worst misleading. Maybe you can state it differently because I am misunderstanding you. I would say that the truth claims of the Bible frame what I believe about Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. I would say that believing in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is not LESS than believing the Bible’s truth claims about Him, but more. However, ultimately what I believe about Jesus and who He is comes from the truth claims of the Bible and not the other way around. I’m not sure I understand where you are going with that. I don’t think I’ve heard anyone say belief on Jesus as Savior and Lord depends on the inerrancy of the Bible.

    • Percival

      I know you would rather hear from Roger on this issue, but I can give you a few thoughts to consider.
      1) Our acceptance of the NT books into the canon depends on the traditions of the church and the teachings of the apostles. We don’t accept the gospels as authoritative because we had a indisputable chain of transmission going back from an early church father to an earlier church father to a companion of Jesus to Jesus himself. That kind of faith in a chain of transmission is supposedly found in Islam, but not in Christianity. Instead, the books and writings that they had were matched against the faith teachings that the church had received from the apostles. Those books that didn’t match were not considered authoritative. (Sorry for the over-simplification here.)
      2) These early writings all testify that Jesus, Paul, Peter, etc. all considered the OT books as the inspired scriptures. If Jesus had taught his disciples otherwise it would have been evident in these early writings and in the testimony of the early church. Therefore, our acceptance of the OT as inspired and authoritative rests squarely on the teachings of Jesus and not vice versa. In addition, Jesus hints at his authority over the scriptures when he says things like, “You have heard … but I say.” Or, “Moses commanded … but …” Actually these you-have-heard passages are actually things that were written in the Torah not merely oral traditions.
      3) Jesus is alive and his authority is eternal and absolute. It is a sort of lese majeste to say to him, “OK, Jesus, I will believe in you because of what this book says.” We should be saying, “Yes, Jesus, I will treasure the things that you treasured when you walked among us and taught us.”
      I’m sure Roger could explain it better, but I hope that is helpful.

      • rogereolson

        That’s good! I couldn’t have said it better. Thanks.

    • Mark

      J.E. Edwards,
      Believing that Jesus is Lord is believe not less or more than what the Bible claims about him. Because the Bible is God’s Word, it is thus Jesus’ Word. To believe what Jesus has declared in his Word (ALL of it) is to believe Jesus. Jesus, unlike Roger’s wife, does not communicate only a truth that is discernible by averaging out the testimony. Jesus communicates ONLY truth that is without any mixture of error or deviation. A separation of God’s Word from his being is impossible. Read Psalm 119 and consider if the words there would be appropriate to ascribe to anyone but God himself, yet the author unapologetically ascribes them to God’s written Word. This all to say that you are on the right track in your thinking.

      • rogereolson

        To me, that comes very close to idolatry of a book.

        • Mark

          Not the book itself, the Word of God, the content of God’s speech. The Bible is very clear that only God is the creator. Only God is eternal. Only God is perfect. Yet these texts (and others) declare this is true about God’s Word as well.
          By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, And by the breath of His mouth all their host. (Psa 33:6 NAS)
          The sum of Thy word is truth, And every one of Thy righteous ordinances is everlasting. (Psa 119:160 NAS)
          The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul (Psa 19:7 NAS)
          Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away. (Mar 13:31 NAS)

        • Lindsay

          The term I used to use was Bibliolatry. Not sure where it came from though

  • Steve Rogers

    The Bible exposes us to truth. Holy Spirit leads us into all truth with or without the Bible. Bible study apart from this process produces clever sermons, puffery, arguments and schism–the hallmarks of man made religion. I love the Bible but the moment my love for it dampens my love for others, I have missed the point.

    • J.E. Edwards

      @Steve
      Your thought, “I love the Bible but the moment my love for it dampens my love for others, I have missed the point.” That is a thought that is foreign to me. Is there an illustration of how this happens? I’m not sure how one can love the Bible and not love others.

  • http://authenticmission.blogspot.co.uk/ Andrew Kenny

    Thanks Roger for your excellent article. I am a passionate believer in the Bible as being ‘ God’s word’ in the traditional sense. But I also believe that it is man’s word in that it was written by men. One has only to read the same event recorded by the different authors in the synoptic gospels to conclude that one or other version has not at least some error in it, even if the story was roughly the same.
    When I was a young Christian ( I was about 16) I remember reading in my morning Bible reading the words of Jesus ‘ Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.’ My mind was then drawn to when I first spoke in tongues and later when I shared my experience with some brethren Christians who then warned me that I probably had a demon. When speaking to them at the time I was not shaken, but later on my own and thinking over what they said, I came to the conclusion that I had a demon and tried to cast it out. As I said before I was a young Christian and unaware of the devil’s devices and not well grounded in the faith.
    Later I concluded that they were wrong and that there was in fact no demon to cast out. However on reading the passage quoted above I was suddenly hit was the fact that by thinking the Holy Spirit was a demon and trying to cast the Spirit out I had unwittingly committed the unforgiveable sin and was therefore doomed to a life without God. Distressed, I looked at every commentary I could find on this passage and articles on the ‘unforgiveable sin’. Most commentators argued that those who think they have committed it have not done so, while those who have do not realise that they have done so. To me this seemed strange logic because the Bible plainly stated that I had. I had spoken against the Holy Spirit. I thought I had a demon and tried to cast it out when in fact it was the Holy Spirit. At this time I read ‘Grace abounding to the chief of sinners’ by John Bunyan and could relate to his anxiety of thinking he had also committed the ‘unpardonable sin’. This problem became a great thorn in the flesh for me until I felt the inner witness of Christ saying to me ‘only believe that your sins are forgiven and they will be’ and ‘Put your trust in me’. If I totally believed in the literal word in this instance I would still be in distress nearly forty years later. But thanks be to God, though the Bible is our rule of faith and the source from which we must judge all other writings it is still only a book and guide: there will be no leather bound gold leafed bible in heaven.

    By the way I hope you don’t mind that I posted your article on my own blog.

    • rogereolson

      Not at all. I’m glad you got that spiritual issue settled. Your experience well illustrates the over scrupulosity that can accompany fundamentalism. I grew up Pentecostal and we worried that fundamentalists who attributed contemporary manifestation of the gifts of the Spirit to Satan or demons were committing the unforgiveable sin. Isn’t that a strange turn-around from your experience!

  • http://exploringthefaith.com Curt Parton

    Dr. Olson, I think it’s important to point out that a great number of inerrantists do not believe that faith in Christ is dependent on an inerrant Bible, and that many inerrantists would agree they believe in the Bible because they believe in Jesus, not the other way around. In fact, many believe in the inerrancy of Scripture largely because they see this understanding demonstrated in the way Jesus himself spoke of Scripture. I’m not saying you would attribute the extreme views described in your post to all inerrantists, but I think it’s important to make this clear.

    I find the Calvinistic view of God (and its logical implications) to be incompatible with the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit regarding the character of God. Of course, Calvinists would feel the opposite just as strongly. Many Christians would say they have a strong inner testimony from the Holy Spirit that the Scriptures are inerrant. This leads me to ask: Just how perspicuous and/or infallible is our perception of the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit? How detailed is the inner testimony the Spirit has given you regarding Scripture? Has he testified to you that Scripture contains truth, or specifically that it is infallible?

    (I realize you’ve written here of the Bible’s truth, trustworthiness, and authority, not specifically infallibility, but I assume you mean the same thing as theological infallibility. Please let me know if I’m mischaracterizing your view.)

    You make the point that a textbook doesn’t have to be flawless in every detail to be trustworthy and authoritative. I think we’d all agree. But is the Bible only trustworthy and authoritative in the same sense as any good textbook? Aren’t we talking about a higher standard of trustworthiness and authority? Would a textbook be considered “infallible”? A person could agree that the Bible conveys truth and that it is, in some way, authoritative without accepting it as infallible. Does any of this really support the view of Scripture as spiritually infallible?

    I do find it interesting that in answering your first question, you again seem to focus on challenging inerrancy rather than supporting infallibility. Even assuming these historical and cosmological inaccuracies in the Bible, and assuming the Spirit’s inner testimony of truth conveyed in the Bible, I still see no compelling reason for accepting factually errant writings as God-breathed, infallible Scripture.

  • http://goodreportministries.com/ Ivan A. Rogers

    Dr. Olson:

    I have a very high regard for the Christian Scriptures having preached them for 63 years. But I just had an interesting thought that I would like to pass on to you for comment: What if Christ had lived, died and resurrected 2000 years ago, but NO account of it was ever written? QUESTION: Would, then, his verbally-stated purpose for coming into the world (Jn 3:17) ever find fulfillment? This is a serious question; your response will be appreciated.

    • rogereolson

      I’m not sure I understand your question, but please look also at v. 18.

      • Mark

        Luke 8:11f (parable of the sower) is very clear that how we receive God’s WORD is of utmost importance. Yes we receive Jesus, of course. But we only receive Jesus as he has disclosed himself to us in his Word. Receiving his word = receiving Jesus.

        • rogereolson

          When did that become the case? Historically, I mean. After all, there was no Christian canon (that spoke directly of Jesus Christ) during the first few decades of Christianity. Were people then not able to “know Jesus” through the messages of the apostles? Paul, for example, didn’t write an epistle (so far as we know) until a decade or two after Jesus’ death and resurrection. And he himself never walked with Jesus or knew him “in the flesh,” so to speak. When did it become impossible to “know Jesus” apart from reading the Bible (or hearing it read)?

          • Mark

            Prior to the NT canon, people were saved the same way, through authoritative apostolic witness. “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you– unless you believed in vain.” (1Cor 15:1-2 ESV) Third party believers would be saved by receiving the same gospel. While these subsequent retellings of the gospels are not inerrant (like preaching today), they are absolutely authoritative in as far as they agree with the Word of God through the apostles. We are saved by Christ through the Word of God (1 Peter 1:23). Of course the only authoritative apostolic teaching remaining is the New Testament. While teaching outside of the actual text of Scripture can lead one to salvation in Christ as far as it truthfully teaches the gospel, the only authority we have to determine the truthfulness of such teaching is the Bible. Therefore, people are saved when they trust in the true message of Jesus Christ that is in accordance with what has been inscribed in the Scriptures. So contrary to the idea that receiving the message of the apostles is different than receiving the Word, we are saved through the Word which itself IS the inspired message of the apostles.

          • rogereolson

            The point is there was “Word of God” and “gospel” before there was Christian Bible as we know it.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Roger,

    Your emphasis on Spirit and relationship as essential to our confidence, hope, rest in God (as distinct from proof) is fundamental (no pun here). :)

    This is another way to make the same point.

    “…….it was the Greeks who saw the Earth as the centre of the celestial spheres. It was Aristotle who saw purposes as causes. It was Cicero who formulated the argument from design. It was the Athenian philosophers who believed that there are philosophical proofs for the existence of God.” pg. 72

    “The Hebrew word da’at, usually translated as ‘knowledge’, does not mean knowledge at all in the Greek sense, as a form of cognition. It means intimacy, relationship, the touch of soul and soul.” pg. 72

    From “The Great Partnership” by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Schocken Books 2011.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Inerrancy arguments come from the human demand for certainty. They have great affinity with the scientific approach to knowledge, though their adherents may cringe at the thought. We humans really want to know, as in, to be certain. This approach is appropriate, even essential to science. Applied to the world of faith it can kill spiritual growth.

    Again, from Sacks’ book (did I say that I recommend this book?):

    “Construe knowledge on the basis of science and, with the best will in the world, you will discover at best only one aspect of God, the aspect the Hebrew Bible calls Elokim, the impersonal God of creation as opposed to the personal God of revelation. ……. most of the Bible is about another face of God, the one turned to us in love, known in the Bible by the four-letter name that, because of its holiness, Jews call Hashem, ‘the name’. This aspect if God is found in relationship, in the face of the human other that carries the trace of the divine Other.” pp. 73-4

  • K Gray

    I hope we pray for more faith, and to live out “letters of testimony” before our youth, who are becoming confused and uncertain due in part to Bible teaching based on rational/lotical proofs, on human motives of authors (as if we are studying The Great Gatsby or Moby Dick), or on agenda-driven interpretations.

  • Fred Karlson

    I believe the presupposition that the original manuscripts in Hebrew and Greek were inerrant is an important one. Of course, that must be framed by the intention of the author, given the use of genre and use of language. If we throw this presupposition out and claim it does not matter, will I proceed cavalierly? Do I say new archaeological findings do not matter? Do I look for inconsistencies in the text and then say it does not matter? But if I proceed, I will want to be careful and cautious in textual criticism as well as interpretation. No, I am not ready to forsake my presupposition, but I am ready to say that there are inconsistencies in numbers and names and other data, which may have been incorrectly copied or understood by the original writer from a different perspective from another writer in a parallel passage. This does not make me an idolater–merely one who has a high regard for God’s Holy Scripture. I believe my presupposition will lead me to more careful and God honoring results in Christian scholarship.

  • MumbleMumble

    Are you saying that people who have non-Christian beliefs are either close-minded or are unfamiliar with Christianity’s teachings? That seems unfair. You also said that other holy books are filled with simple nonsense. To someone of a different faith, isn’t the Bible just another book filled with errors and nonsense?
    Your reasons for believing the Bible is God’s word are reasons only for those who already believe (i.e. who already have faith). Are there reasons for people who don’t currently follow the Bible to believe that it is God’s word?

    • rogereolson

      As I said, there are internal and external evidences for it, but they fall short of absolute proof. Life is a matter of seeing things “as.” There is little proof of anything outside of mathematics.

    • Tim Reisdorf

      Hi MM,
      There are reasons for people who don’t currently follow the Bible to believe that it is God’s word. However, they don’t mean much until one encounters God Himself. Having trust in the Bible is nothing unless one also has trust in the God who breathed it. But if you want to believe in the Bible first, then do what it says and believe in God.
      There is no proof, but there are many very good reasons to trust the Bible that people have discussed here in the postings and comments. But where would you be even if you had proof? You still must lay down evil ways, prideful thoughts, hope for your own gratification to take up Christ’s cross and follow the rabbi, that is Jesus. It is in the relationship with God (and proper fear of Him) that wisdom appears.
      -Tim

      • rogereolson

        Very well said, Tim. Thanks.

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  • http://hikinjim.blogspot.com Hikin’ Jim

    Thank you for this, Dr. Olson. Very well stated, and it makes a great deal of sense.

    HJ

  • http://thebridge-cu.com Ron S

    Thanks for an article that honors both Jesus and the Bible. Much appreciated.

    I am always a bit puzzled by the argument for inerrancy since it does not at all seem to be a concern of the Biblical writers or even of the collectors of the canon. Verses quoted to support it always import meanings not at all obvious in the text and context. Isn’t this incarnational and historical process view of God’s word in fact one of the great differences between the Bible and works such as the Koran or the Book of Mormon, etc.? The Biblical writers were quite happy to allow the human and divine interaction to stand on its own without dismissing either end of the dynamic tension. Why shouldn’t we follow their lead?

  • rvs

    Subjectivism is good. Truth is subjectivity, as the wise philosopher once said. Indeed, by hitching the Christian wagon to the cult of objectivity, many evangelicals have unwittingly turned religion into mechanical science. Even the scientists these days, however, have happily abandoned the notion of objectivity that many Christians still use/desire. They now talk of paradigms, inter-subjective agreement, probability, and the like.

  • Michael

    If part of the Bible is errant, who gets to decide which parts are right and which parts are wrong? A pope figure? A group of critical scholars, acting like a pope figure? If the Spirit decides what is errant, then what if two people who both have the Spirit disagree? Do we take a vote to see what popular opinion comes up with?

    • rogereolson

      The same question is inescapable about interpretation. Do you desire a magisterium to dictate how ever verse in the Bible must be interpreted? I hope not.

      • Michael

        Isn’t this called the Dalmation theory of inspiration (recently quoted by Dr. Russell Moore) where the Bible is inspired in spots and you are inspired to identify those spots?

        • rogereolson

          How cute. Not to be taken seriously, though.

  • Jeff

    Dr. Olson,

    Great post! I would just caution about one thing. The early church was not opposed to having a magisterium. Acts 15 is a good example. In fact Acts 15 would both argue for the importance of a magisterium and being led by the Spirit. After all the conclusion in that meeting of leaders was that since the Gentiles had been given the Spirit God accepted them!

    What we need to do is have leaders in the church who believe that the Spirit of Christ in them is what guides them most importantly

  • jerry lynch

    I really get perplexed on topics like this. What’s all the fuss? I usually want to ask but feel I must be missing something and will just appear ignorant or stupid. In the spirit, not the letter is all I need. What is the spirit?: action. The message is a spirit of action, not a system of belief.
    You want the authority of the Bible? You’ll find it being a servant to all? You want the inerrancy of the Bible? Love as the father in heaven loves. The proof is in the pudding, at least that is what my mother always said. Faith demands no proof, so the pudding is not knowing with certainty but serving with certainty, trusting in the power and direction of the Holy Spirit alone; he teaches us all things.
    Of course such a path of radical grace is highly dangerous, yet true freedom in Christ demands it. Do I then continually ground myself in Scripture to secure I stay on the straight and narrow? Where is the trust in that? Mowing the lawn, feeding the hungry, and reading the Bible become the same activity, if I remain hidden in Christ and not my own understanding.
    There is a certain form of holding ambiguity that is necessary to faith, for in that tension alone is an opening to truth. And paradox is the native tongue of truth, its first language.

  • Derek

    Thanks for your thoughts Dr. Olson. A question though:

    What is the Biblical definition of “faith”?

    • rogereolson

      This seems like a totally innocent question, but I suspect a trap. Explain why you are asking it and maybe we can engage in some dialogue.

    • Jeff

      Taking the innocent side – The best definition of faith is Romans 4:21 – Being persuaded that God has the ability to do what He promised

      • rogereolson

        Well, I certainly agree with that. More could also be said, but not less.

  • Derek

    Ha, no, not a trap at all. I was merely under the impression that faith does not have to be, and was never intended to be, a blind trust — not in God or His word. However, I understand that you are speaking about inerrancy in this post but you state we must have faith, so I am curious as to how you are defining faith when you state inerrancy can basically only be held by faith.

    • rogereolson

      In that case, with regard to inerrancy, I meant there is no proof of it (especially when inerrantists apply it only to the non-existent autographs as most, if not all, do).

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  • Larry Santa

    Dr. Olson:
    Thanks for your thesis. I have wrestled with this issue for some time to the point of frustration. I’m finally left with some basic observations.
    1. No one has access to a Bible that is inerrant. Therefore whatever version is being studied, the reader is quite often accepting and believing some degree of error. Example, the wrong age of some king or the number of soldiers involved in some conflict.
    2. Defending inerrancy is a never ending exercise. Many “errors” can be dismissed or dissolve before careful analysis. Others are more stubborn, and take some scholarly gymnastics to dismantle. And then, there are the stubborn “others” that I have to put on a backburner.
    3. Most Bible readers do not have academic credentials to engage in this esoteric game of inerrancy apologetics. It would be unChristian elitism to conclude that these readers can not derive inspiration and direction from this special book.
    4. I have read several books in different fields of science and history that have numerical errors or more serious errors and yet I accept them as being valuable and authoritative.
    Reading news reports I’ve come upon errors in the same article about some incident, but never conclude that this incident did not happen. The Bible can measure up to this level of validity.
    5. It is possible for me to write a book that is error free. About a stove element being hot; about a bird that can fly; about water that is cold. Error free does not signify inspiration or something that is life changing.
    6. However, at a more elegant level, the themes and teachings in the Bible, the parallels, the prophecies, the wisdom, the engaging remarks and actions of Jesus, and lesser individuals overwhelm this reader. And as such, numerical anomalies and inexplicable puzzles pale to insignificance before the monument of God’s message to man.

  • Brian

    Faith is the suspension of factual reality in order to buy into someone else’s explanation. If Faith is required to accept the basic argument that there is only one God despite the fact the bible clearly identifies other deities (Gods) who the God of Moses is battling for supremacy with, why should we have FAITH in the bible? If there is only one true God, why did he create these other Gods?

    • Roger Olson

      I don’t even know where to begin…. I guess I will begin by asking if you’re serious. Sometimes people post comments to blogs (including mine) meant to parody someone else’s belief–to proof such dumb beliefs actually exist “out there.” Your comment is so uninformed that it makes me wonder if you are actually raising a serious question for dialogue. For one thing, your definition of faith is idiocyncratic–unique to you. You seem to have just invented it.

  • Jeremy

    This article succinctly highlights everything that is wrong with religion and faith.
    For starters, I really can’t express how much of a copout it is to say that the bible must be inerrant in its original autograph, when we have no original autographs. If it is really divine, why has God allowed errors to creep into it over time? Why did the people that came before us deserve a truer account than we do?


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