Is the Bible “God’s Word”? [Questions That Haunt]

We took last week off for Holy Week, and for the release of the QTHC ebook. With the release of that book, a host of new questions have come in — to date, hundreds have been asked. You and I have answered 21. It’s time to dive into another season of excellent questions and thoughtful answers.

If you’re new to the series, it works like this: people email their questions to me; I post them on Tuesday for general conversation in the comment section; and I make my attempt at an answer on Friday. You can read them all here.

One of the reasons I started this last summer was that I have repeatedly heard the accusation that emergent and progressive Christian leaders don’t answer questions forthrightly. That we tap dance, avoid the question, and say, “That’s the wrong question.” I think that’s a fair criticism, and I wanted to combat it. I wanted to answer questions as honestly and vulnerably as possible, even if my answers are unsatisfying; even if I don’t have a good answer.

To get back into our series, we’ve got a question from Jake:

I’m having trouble with believing that the Bible is literally God’s words, God’s actually intended message to humanity. I’m also having trouble with taking the Bible as my sole authority. I always hear Christians in arguments say, “Do you have a verse for that?” or “Where in the Word-of-Gawd does it say that?” So my question is: Is the Bible really inspired, and should we take it as our sole authority?

This is, of course, a multi-layered question. If you drop “literally” from Jake’s opening sentence, it changes the meaning. And in his closing question, the work “inspired” if rife with debate. So, have at it. Post your thoughts in the comment section below.

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  • Brian P.

    Answering such a questions implies that I have the skills, authority, and desire to judge what is and isn’t inspired. Answering such a question puts me over the text. Whether or not it is inspired is less interested and whether or not it is inspiring. But inspiring to do what? One would hope inspiring to kindness and compassion. For it to be inspired, but for me not to be inspired to be Christ-like for those in need and hope is to be duller than any blunted, rusty, antique sword.

  • Yes it is inspired (by which I would mean essentially a dictionary definition), and should not be our sole authority. Also, it cannot possibly be our sole authority, since we invariably use other authorities to help us interpret it (our reason, academic scholarship, our lived experience and context, our social location, etc.)

    As for whether the Bible is comprised of God’s words – of course not. Some parts of the Bible are God’s lower-case word (as identified in the text), and other parts of the Bible help us to understand God’s upper-case Word, who is of course Jesus.

    • Ric Shewell

      I don’t think the tools used to access Scripture are really authorities over Scripture. Not any more that my glasses decide the color of an apple. Glasses are just a tool I need to access the apple, but the apple stands on its own with out my glasses, or really anything else.

    • connordefehr

      Awesome reminder Douglas, we often study things that help us with God’s Word before studying His Word (John 4:4). For we shall live by the words that come from God.

      The things that are meant to point us directly to Jesus end up being too much of our focus and are branches, intended solely to step on to bring us closer to Him:

      • Keith Titus

        Yes. Wisdom, history, poetry, etc. etc. And that’s true of the Jesus stories too. I don’t know where I heard this particular aphorism but… “history is a lie; myth is truth”. I have chosen to be guided by the Jesus myth. It is one that surrounded me in my formative years; as opposed to other “ttrue” myths. I certainly understand it differently now than then (process). I’ve also used that saying and turned it around a bit. “life is a lie; art is truth”.

  • This is one I’ve struggled with for a long time and on more than one occasion, have I been burned for asking it. I’m finding that we Christians have come up with a few things that have more than one meaning, which has blurred lines of understanding for believers. For example, there’s “church” and “The Church.” Unfortunately, in the Bible, the standard by which most of Christianity holds thinking people to, doesn’t have anything called “church” in it. I know, Christ said to Peter, “on this rock, I will build my church,” but I’ve heard it debated that the word He used wasn’t properly translated, so that’s even debatable. Regardless, say the word “church” to anyone and they automatically have images of buildings with steeples appear in their head. Say “God’s word” to people and a picture of a Bible pops into their head.

    I don’t like calling the Bible “God’s word,” because I don’t think God called it His word, and if He didn’t, I don’t think we should, either. Why? Because calling the Bible God’s word implies that HE’S DONE TALKING and if He’s done talking, WE’RE DONE LISTENING. When it comes right down to it, I think THIS is the main problem within “Christianity” these days. We no longer hear God speaking to us, because we believe He’s done speaking. We no longer know what it is to truly have a relationship with Him, because a relationship requires more than the reading and memorization of information about a person. We are led by the Bible (and not very well, at that), hence our nice little acronym for BIBLE, Basic Instruction Before Leaving Earth (another thing God didn’t call the Bible). I heard someone make the observation that the Bible has become the 4th member of the trinity. BAM!!! I’ll go even further and suggest that we’ve not only made the Bible the 4th member of the trinity, but have placed it ahead of the other members of the trinity in terms of our day to day lives.

    The Bible does use different variations of the term “God’s Word” throughout the Bible, but I have come to believe that unless the text is specifically referring to something God said, when He used that term, He was referring to Christ, Himself. The entire Bible is pointing to Christ, who IS GOD’S WORD. When you read “the word” in the Bible as in referring to Christ, it will change your entire approach to the Bible and God and open your eyes and heart to the One who longs to pour out His love on us, have a relationship with us, and lead us in righteousness; something the Bible does not have the power to do.

  • Sam Halverson

    He’s actually asking two questions, and neither is whether the Bible is “literally God’s word” (he says he’s only having trouble with that idea – not that it’s his question). I’m guessing that the question “is the Bible really inspired” intends to mean “Is the Bible really inspired by God?” (After all, isn’t any writing “inspired” by something?) That would mean, has God motivated and moved people to write the accounts and thoughts we find in scripture or is it just some thoughts that humanity has come up with over the centuries and God was not involved. Obviously this is a faith statement. One who does not believe in God would not be able to view the Bible as inspired by God. On the other hand, one who has a God belief has no problem believing that God and God’s work in the world “inspired” people to record their experiences and their thoughts and ideas. All along that mindset, though, is a further question of “How inspired by God is the Bible?” That is, did God dictate every word? did God only bring the environment and the experiences and leave our response and writing up to us? did God gently nudge in different directions and give insight but leave the point of view and perspectives up to the writers?

    I guess my answer to that would have a bit to do with what I know of God and God’s regard of our free will. I don’t find many situations in life (or history) where I see that God forced things to happen. There are those times in scripture where we are told that God “hardened” hearts, but “making” someone do something is not in character with God. Also, the various perspectives we find in duplicate stories (in the Old Testament as well as in the Gospels) direct me toward a God who has inspired the writers, maybe even motivated them toward writing, but always through their perspectives and the insight of their experience.

    The other question, “Should we take it as our sole authority?” also comes from this understanding of whether the inspiration is from God or only our “musings”. It amazes me that often those who believe scripture to be totally inspired and directed by God often believe that we should accept no other authority. The two beliefs seem incompatible with each other. On one hand these people believe in a God that would direct and dictate to and through individuals at certain times, but on the other hand they believe that God would suddenly stop communicating ever again. This belief would take away the authority of preaching, the authority of our ministries, the authority of the Church.

    There are those, however, who do believe God continues to speak through the Body (the Church) and through the ministries of others. There are even those who believe that the Christ is encountered in ministry and in service (through both – the one served and the one doing the serving). If this is the case, then there must be authority in that experience, too. God is continuing to be in relationship with us and with creation – bringing all of creation back to God – restoring creation. This must mean that scripture cannot be the “only sole authority.” I love Wesley’s quadrilateral – that our authority is based on scripture, but we are directed through scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. Through each of these God’s spirit directs the Church and directs our lives.

  • Yes I believe the Bible was inspired by the Holy Spirit (but I don’t believe it’s inerrant).
    By inspired, I mean the writers were led to write what they wrote by God and that it his intention that we have this book as a source of revelation.
    I think the biggest issues for us are interpretive … For example, the Bible is not inspired in English, only in the original languages, and, therefore, are open to debate which I believe is God’s intention: that we wrestle with the text based on the values we believe God to hold, that he is love, that he is good, that he is at his work of rescue and redemption in our world.
    A second issue we face is ‘arrogance dressed as confidence’. When people say they are ‘standing on the Word’ or ‘Bible-based’, they are often refusing to approach the text humbly, conscious of their own limited ability to understand the text fully.
    Finally, ‘do you have a verse for that’ is an endemic issue in our faith because one cannot pull a verse from a massive narrative to prove a point. I wrote this yesterday:
    “Our hearts seem to be deceitful, incomprehensible sources of life that we must guard but not necessarily trust. It’s a complex, almost paradoxical understanding of the heart that no one fully can grasp and yet everyone can relate to. Which makes sense because some things are too important and too meaningful to be easily and simply defined. ”
    This is true of most of the Bible. The Bible rarely says one thing about anything … nor does it claim to.
    I have no problem with the belief that the Bible is inspired … I just mourn our lack inspiration in our reading of it.

  • Pete

    Oh boy, I can’t wait for some of the responses to this one…
    Is the Bible really inspired, and should we take it as our sole authority?
    Yes, the bible is inspired in the sense that people used their creativity to write it… e.g. the creation story… but as a sole authority? No way… I’m not giving away my freewill to blindly believe a words that can not possibly be verified as being from God.
    I like my channelled stuff to. As far as I’m concerned if Jesus was able to talk to Moses on the Mount of Transfiguration then I have no problem with a medium talking to him face to face. As for what he said regard his own words:
    Jesus: I was here to teach that there were many paths to God. I repeated to others that I am not the only way, though this was rewoven by other people to state that I am the only way. I would never take the time to feed my ego this way. This is worthless effort. There are many ways to reach God. I was also here to teach that the many ways that find God is to start with self—to go in, then outward. It was not to place the responsibility of belief and spiritual security on another person. It’s only to be done within the temple, and the body is the temple. The church is not the temple.
    From here:

  • ˆˆ Well that took an interesting turn …

  • The obvious answer that I think everyone can agree on is, yes, the Bible is “God’s word”.

    The more tricky questions that underlie that answer are a) What is God? and b) What is word?

    As for the Bible being the “sole authority”, only the most rigid fundamentalists will assert this. Almost all Christians, even the most traditional, will allow that the church and church tradition are also valid sources of authority for Christians.

    • Care to elaborate, Curtis? I don’t mean to sound sarcastic, but you can read through the previous posts and see that what you deem as the “obvious answer,” isn’t so obvious to everyone. What makes it obvious to you? Also, you raise a valid question that is important within the context of this discussion; what is “word” to you?

      • My point is, I think everyone can agree that the Bible is “God’s word” if they are allowed to define, for themselves, what “God” is, and what “word” is. For example, a secular humanist can assert hat “God” is the collective consciousness of all humans, past, present and future, on the planet, and that “word” is the expression of human consciousness through myth, poetry and metaphor. For the secular humanist, then, the Bible can be “God’s word”, on their own terms. I think everyone can come up with a definition for “God” and “word” that can make the Bible “God’s word” for them, but that may be completely different from the traditional Christian definition of “God” and “word”.

        I have my own understanding of “God” and “word”, and understanding that I know is held by many other people of faith. But my understanding of those terms is not really relevant to the question being asked. What is relevant is that there can be many different understandings of what those words mean.

    • Well I don’t think “yes” would be the obvious answer, maybe for fundagelicals but not for skeptical Christians and others like myself. But I do like that you bring up the notions of “What is God,” and “What is word.” I think to get at the former question would be to first answer “What is the God-role;” i.e., what is our God talk attempting to answer or satisfy? The latter question is trickier because of it vagueness.

  • Pax

    Should we take the Bible as our sole authority? No.

    Even if the Bible is the inspired Word of God, it doesn’t address every question. It doesn’t even address which books should be in the Bible (about which there is much disagreement – I’m still waiting for Tony argument for why the Didache should be included – maybe he’ll hit on it in his answer). Furthermore, the Bible doesn’t say that it is the sole authority. Thus, sola scriptura fails its own test.

    Taking the Bible-alone approach also gets you into the problem of figuring out what the Bible means. It isn’t self-interpreting.

    This leaves you with two possible outcomes: either (1) there is some authority which can definitively adjudicate disagreements or (2) there isn’t. If (2), then the Bible isn’t very helpful as an authority itself, and you ultimately get something like everyone getting to decide what’s true for themselves (see Tony as Pope). If (1), then a good follow up question would be “what is this other authority?” I will submit for consideration that it’s the Church that Christ founded (and I think that there is evidence pointing to which one he founded). After all, Christ didn’t leave us a book. He left us a Church.

    • Amen!

    • So our foundational, epistemic authority, is the Church, aka, other people? But where will they take their authority?

      • Well, for Roman Catholics, it is a specific Church, aka the Catholic church and its dogma, and a specific person, aka the Pope. So Catholics have their answer to the dilemma Pax raises.

        For everyone else, we are left with what God has given us: The Bible, our brains, each other and the Holy Spirit. But that is not an entirely hopeless place to start.

      • Pax

        I should have been more clear. I propose that the historical evidence suggests that Christ founded a church, the Catholic Church, and that Church persists today. Christ gave authority to the first Christians, and that authority has been passed on through successors.

        However, in my answer, I’m saying that those who hold some form of relativism about what has been revealed by God are more internally consistent than those who believe in Bible-as-the-sole-authority.

        • Not to divert from the subject at hand, but I think I need to rescind my AMEN. Help me understand how you, or the Catholic church, conclude that Christ “founded” any institutional/organized form of “church,” and specifically, the Catholic church; an organization highly structured and hierarchical. There is very little in the Bible that suggests He was building any kind of organization that was to be run by man and have such a structure.

          • Pax

            Jesus selected twelve Apostles from among His disciples. You already discussed how Christ said he would found the Church on Peter, so you obviously have read perspectives on that. The Apostles are shown as the leaders of the early Church and clearly have a special role. They were the ones at the Last Supper, they were the ones given the Great Commission, they were the ones who preached on Pentecost, etc. The Bible even shows them passing the office on to successors (Matthias in Acts 1). The line of succession continues today (mostly in the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches), and the Catholic Church is the one that has the successor of Peter (the leader of the apostles) as Bishop of Rome (i.e. the Pope).

            • Thanks for the perspective. The question in my mind, then is; what did Jesus mean when He said, “on this rock, I will build my church…?” I don’t hear Jesus appointing Peter as the first church leader, and giving him the responsibility of organizing what we now call “the church.” Jesus was responding to Peter’s confession of faith that Christ is the messiah. “It is upon faith in Christ that the church is “built,” not literally upon any individual. It seems to me that if Peter were being appointed to a position and had been given the mandate to create an organized “church,” He would have made that clear, not only to him, but to everyone. You don’t even see the disciples organizing around, or submitting themselves Peter’s leadership.

              • Pax

                I think that Christ did make it clear that that’s what he intended for Peter, In Matt. 16:19 when Christ says he will give Peter the keys to the kingdom of heaven, the keys are an allusion to Isaiah 22 and the key held by the chief steward of the royal household.

                And I think other disciples did, in fact, submit to Peter’s leadership. In the cases I mentioned above, Peter is the one who leads them in the selection of Matthias to take Judas’ office in Acts 1 and Peter is the one speaking for the Apostles on Pentecost in Acts 2 (and other places). In Acts 15, Peter led the Council of Jerusalem and after the debate settled the question of circumcision of the Gentiles.

  • LoneWolf

    No, the Bible is not “God’s Word.” It contains a lot of God’s words, but that doesn’t make Him the author of it. Human’s wrote it, and humans decided what belonged in it. The Bible is Humanity’s Word much more than it is God’s Word, and should be regarded with as much authority as any other humanly produced work. In fact, it never refers to itself as “God’s Word,” the closest being that “God-inspired” or “God-breathed” (depending on your translation) passage, and that doesn’t make the Bible any more infallible than God-inspired or God-breathed people.

    • I don’t know anyone (personally) who believes that God dictated the words in the Bible to the authors. If I did, I might point to The Revelation – which according to what I heard is the worst Greek in the Bible. Here John is sitting on a rock in the Mediterranean without his scribe trying to write words that he knew were coming directly from Jesus in a language that was not his favorite. If the words were coming directly from God, you would think he at least would get his sentence structure and verb tenses right.

      My personal response is that I get the sense that much of the Bible is Spirit-breathed and alive and still speaking to me — probably less through the actual black letters than through the white matrix in which they float. So, I don’t really know for sure, but I live my life as if it were. I don’t need to draw that line in the sand to respond to His voice with empathy and love in the middle of the mundane.

  • I’ve heard responses about the Bible being inspired in the sense that the writers had emotional stirrings and heavenly motivations, but to me that doesn’t seem to answer my question. I’ve experienced these kinds of inspiration-moments which have guided me in writing and drawing, but I would never say that some other being was using them or speaking through them. I would also never want the product of my inspired-moment to be an epistemic authority for someone else (at best possibly recommendations-to-act).

    • If you are inspired to write a “recommendations-to-act” on a paper or a blog somewhere, and your same recommendations got handed down, in some form or another, for generations, for hundreds of years, and continued to be affirmed and meaningful to its readers throughout that time, wouldn’t your inspiration moment be just as inspired and authoritative as a passage from the Bible?

      If not, why not?

      • Yes, but they would not be inspired in the sense that they are the necessary prescriptions for humanity. Biblical inspiration, at least understood in fundagelicalism, is such that the contingent accounts of history (the writings of some dudes, somewhere) are eternal/ necessary truths. Biblical Inspiration, robustly understood, carries the notion that these aren’t just some helpful data and recommendations, but are the very words of God.

        • Only the most fundamentalist teachers would claim the Bible as purely prescriptive. I would argue that such a position is not religion at all, but a sort of false psychosis. Of course, that is the topic for a different post!

          To equate “God’s word” with “necessary prescriptions” is a false equation. I think the lessons in the Bible are necessary lessons, but they are not prescriptive. If you don’t learn God’s lessons from in the Bible, you will learn them somewhere else. If you don’t learn God’s lessons, you will fail to live. But the Bible is not the sole, unique source for those lessons. It just happens to be a really good source.

          • Touche’. “But the Bible is not the sole, unique source for those lessons. It just happens to be a really good source.”

            I’m just curious, what would be the definition of fundamentalism? Because I’ve heard more moderate types claim that the Bible is still the word of God, although not fully prescriptive or inerrant. But they would definitely claim that the Bible has supernatural origins of some kind.

            • I go with the general definition of fundamentalism as “unwavering attachment to a set of irreducible beliefs.” Fundamentalism can occur with any ideology or belief, even non-religious. Fundamentalism is a pathological response to the anxiety that is caused by the unavoidable uncertainty of being human.

  • twebb2

    Tony, seriously, this is a haunting question? For who? Most of us (nearly all of us?) would say the Bible is not “God’s Word”, whatever that is. In fact, James McGrath, one of the progGod bloggers, I think says that to say it’s “God’s Word” is idolatry, because human language is so equivocal – it’s as dumb as believing in the resurrection (or so I understand he says, but with more flourish).

    This not a haunting question. Most Christians have gotten over this decades or centuries ago.

    • I disagree with you. I come into contact with a great many Christians who would say that being a Christian is tantamount to holding that the Bible is the word of God. Maybe not in your sphere of influence, but for the average Christian, those with a “pre-critical naive” faith, this question is haunting (if not outright heretical).

    • Your concern is a legitimate one twebb2, however we shouldn’t expect everyone to be on the same page with what haunts. Despite the advent of mass communication, we can’t all be up on the latest archaeology or Higher Textual Criticism.

  • Thom

    Is the Bible God’s Word, divinely inspired? If I have to think of God as “up there” and me “down here”, then no, I don’t believe it was dictated to someone word for word. However, if we see God as both over all and in all, i.e. God as a part of our deepest self, and God as part of an emerging, evolving creation, then for me God’s word becomes the “Word” that reveals us (Humanity) to ourselves. So reading it as divinely inspired is not a difficult for me, as it’s authourity is not exclusively or even primarily in its propositions about reality so much as its authority is in its accurate portrayal of our human condition, and God’s breaking into it. Our human condition necessarily limits our ability to perceive and understand God through His Word, and yet ingesting it at whatever current level of spiritual being we have, can and does move us forward, from the lowest levels of ‘literal’ understanding to deeper levels of truth, i.e. allegorical, mystical and so on.

    The key for me in all of this is that the locus of God changes, from up there, to in myself, then to in all and through all.

  • The Bible is not God’s word and never has been. You could make a case that pentechuch represented God’s Word to the hebrew tribes, but here today: the Bible is THE WORD ABOUT THE WORD! Jesus is the Word of God. It’s pretty plain in John’s Gospel

  • I think this is actually a distinction that sets apart a “sustainable” or “progressive” or “emergent/ce” Christianity from other forms. Those who see the Bible as the sole – or even primary – source of “authority” or “truth” will continue to be perceived as the new fundamentalists. And, that group is on a steady decline.

    I think the homosexuality issue is the most current example of this. Even though many of the arguments defending LGBTQ persons are religiously-influenced ones, the movement as a whole is successfully building its case with or without those ideas. Interpretations of the Bible have become unnecessary. There are many who are trying to make the case from within the Bible itself, but I honestly think this is a dangerous move. It only expounds the problem.

    I think the only way forward is to see the Bible as a very important set of documents that communicates something of “the divine” to us, but it cannot be seen as the only or primary way to experience the divine, or the only or primary access to “truth.”

    This, of course, creates a problem for those among us who want to defend the “objective reality” of something like Jesus’ resurrection, against the historical and scientific consensus. But, I think that, too, is going to become much less of a defining norm for progressive Christians over the next few years.

    • Ric Shewell

      I don’t know man. I think there was a movement like this a little more than 100 years ago, with Schliermacher, Union Theological Seminary, Bultmann, etc. Then, after that, we have movements back towards the importance of Scripture (not inerrancy, but importance) with post-liberals and narrative theology.

      I just kinda think that progressive Christians or liberal theologians have been there and back. There will always be progressive Christians going further away and going towards a stronger emphasis on the authority of Scripture.

      • I agree that philosophy and theology are always changing. But, though that’s very important, I’m trying to think much broader than that. I think we are part of a massive cultural shift, and “religion” in general needs to change in light of it. I don’t think the more conservative branches of the religions will regain their prior standing. But, I also don’t really think a sustained humanist movement is likely to become a part of the new normal, either – unless it is able to distance itself from its own fundamentalist tendencies.

  • Couldn’t we say, that other religious documents are equally inspired? The Bhagavad Gita, the Koran, the Book of Mormon? Couldn’t we say that these writers were inspired?

    • You can say whatever you want. As my 12-year-old keeps reminding me: “It’s a free country!”

      But seriously, Jesus gave us clear instructions about how to assess other teachers “By their fruit you will know them”. Jesus was fully aware that other teachers existed, and more were sure to come. Jesus’ instructions about how to asses these teachings is both simple and powerful.

    • As others have alluded; I think everything is inspired by something. I don’t think an argument can really be made one way or the other as to whether different religious documents are “equally” inspired. Inspiration isn’t quantitative, or measurable.

      As for who, or what is behind the inspiration of the Bible; there’s another question that comes to mind. Is the Bible “inspired” or “breathed” by God? Depending on the version you read, it could be either. I don’t know what the original texts said, but to me, the two words create a very different idea as to the potential “authority” of the Bible. Inspired leaves a whole lot of room for personal thoughts, ideas, feelings, recollections, etc.. Breathed implies a word for word dictation from God Himself.

      Most of the New Testament, especially, is written from a first person perspective. “This is my account, from my perspective, what I perceived, or experienced and I was compelled to write it down” This is what inspiration looks like and what makes most sense to me, because whether people want to admit it, or not, there are seeming contradictions in the Bible. I don’t believe God would dictate things to people that contradicts what He said to someone else.

      • “I don’t believe God would dictate things to people that contradicts what He said to someone else.” Why rule out God having a sense of humor?

  • Ric Shewell

    To answer a question with a question:

    Which Bible?

    We don’t have access to what was actually written down by any prophet or apostle. And our earliest copies of the New Testament are written in all caps with no spaces or punctuation. Every step away from the original autographs includes a step of interpretation. By the time we get an English translation in our hot little hands, it has been seriously man-handled by scholars, biblical societies, and translation teams – all with biases and agendas.

    I’m not saying that the Bibles we have aren’t good representations of the original, just that we need to be aware of the process they’ve gone through when we ask questions like this.

    (there weren’t chapters and verses for over 1000 years! now, we’re crazy about them)

    • Good point! In addition, for several hundred years, they didn’t even have an assembled Bible that included the earth and heaven shifting changes that came about upon Christ’s death and resurrection! How did the early church ever survive, let alone thrive?!

      • Ric Shewell

        I don’t know if I’m reading sarcasm into your last sentence or not.

        Anyway, the early church didn’t have an assembled New Testament for maybe about 100 years. But many churches and early fathers were using and quoting the Gospels and Epistles in the 2nd century. By the time they canonized the NT, they pretty much had consensus because they were all using the same books for a while.

        They also had the Hebrew Scriptures. The early church very much depended on the teachings of the Prophets and Apostles through the things written down.

        • Nope, no sarcasm at all. Sorry if it came across that way.

          True, but I guess my point was that it wasn’t the letters and the Hebrew scriptures that kept them alive and growing in relationship with Christ. In fact, the Hebrew scriptures would have led them right back into life under the law, which Paul did warn about quite a bit. It was their relationship with the Holy Spirit that really made the difference. It’s interesting how we put so much weight on the scriptures and the letters of the apostles, when Christ said that He was sending the Holy Spirit to guide us. I wonder then, why we concern ourselves so much with the texts, because if we were supposed to rely on the book, it would contradict what Christ actually said, which puts us in an awkward position of deciding what to believe.

  • Interesting how positively 21st Century Jesus is! Wonder if he’ll sound out of date 100 years from now?

  • And, due to comments being positively wonky on this blog, my response is in the wrong spot. This was in response to the fellow who channels Jesus.

  • Marc Anderson

    The texts are an attempt by various people in various places and times, shaped by their environment (education, culture, tradition, etc) to record their experience with their God in their place and time. Inspired and inspiring perhaps, but human words nonetheless filled with human prejudices, a tribal mentality and an incomplete understanding of physiology, psychology, nature, the world and the universe among other things. In my opinion, the reality of God transcends the literalism of the text both then and now.

  • It seems to me that the Bible is God’s word but not God’s words. It is God’s word in the sense that it contains God’s promise–in the Bible, we find God’s promise to humankind (a promise that finds its fulfillment in Jesus, the Word of God). But I find it intellectually untenable to think that the Bible contains words that were dictated by God.

  • Rob

    The Word became flesh. The Word is Himself. In that case, I believe that the Bible is the work allowed by God to represent who he is, what he is about, who Jesus was and is, and what he is doing through Jesus, His spirit, and humanity. God says that all scripture is profitable yet through that scripture we learn that Jesus, the creator and the recreator is the Word. His resurrection is the putting things to right with creation and the cosmos and the scripture, being profitable, points us to him being the Word and that it was there in the beginning. We currently are introduced to Jesus through scripture but our encounter goes beyond the page, the “word”, and is ultimately transformed by the “Word” who became flesh and was resurrected into a new flesh to show that we all will become like him, like the “Word.” Eventually, we will be written into the pages with the “Word.” The Spirit is the Breath, Jesus is the Word, and the Father is the Author. Scriptures demonstrate that. I think the question behind the question here is, “Can we add to or subtract from the current format(s) of scripture we have.” “Who’s version/additions/subtractions is/are more inspired/accurate?” “What process of changing it would that look like?” “Who would have authority to do that?” “Could we be assured that it was the “Will” of God.” Those seem to be the real questions here.

  • Thank you Ric for saying it! “Which Bible?” and I’ll add to that “Says Who?” That is, part of the answer to this question can be found in an investigation of who said it is God’s word in the first place. Timothy 3:16 says “God breathed”, which requires some knowledge of Greek, and it is hard to say what books he was referring to, since this was before canonization. OT statements have similar problems. Not to mention the circularity of such references. Early Church fathers like Origen and Augustine said the Bible should be interpreted metaphorically at least some of the time. That four versions of the gospel were included should be an obvious statement from the past that there are different ways to look at Jesus.

    Inerrancy is not wholly a new idea, but its latest proponents are people who are reacting to the improvements in are ability to understand ancient languages, our knowledge of ancient culture and recovery of long lost ancient documents. Instead of allowing these to shed light on who we are, they are treated with fear. It should be considered heretical.

  • I just have to include my favorite response to this from Nadia Bolz-Weber; When we say the Bible is inerrant and can look there for all answers, we leave Jesus sitting in a van on the corner, idling, waiting for the end. We tell Jesus that we don’t need him, because we have everything we need. When the time comes, we’ll let him know.

  • Diane U.

    I’d like to ask this question of others more knowledgeable than I: Is there any place in the Bible where it says that everything in the Bible is literally true? I know this sounds like a dumb question, but some people say that everything in the Bible is literally true (I don’t believe that), and I wonder where that idea came from. If not, how do we decide what is literally true and what is metaphor?

    • Timothy 3:16 is a classic. I’m sure you could google others. I don’t think you’ll find “this whole thing is the word of God”. Recognizing metaphor is not as easy. Sometimes Jesus starts a parable with “it is as if”, that’s about as easy as it gets, but then he’ll use a word like “heaven” and how do you know if he meant that to be the metaphor? No easy answer there. To really answer that requires thoughtful study of the author, the context, the reason for them writing what they did, what they were trying to convey and to whom. What words or phrases were normally metaphorical at that time? For starters, I’d say, if it is something is completely unknown under any other circumstances, like making a woman from a rib, it’s probably metaphor.

      • Diane U.

        I like this idea, “if it is something is completely unknown under any other circumstances, like making a woman from a rib, it’s probably metaphor”…except that would deem the Resurrection and nearly every one of Jesus’ miracles as metaphors. Something in my gut wants those to be literal. 😀

      • Do you suppose it ever occurs to the people that constantly quote Timothy 3:16, that Timothy 3:16 is a metaphor?

        The doctrine of scriptural inerrancy originated with the doctrine of “sola scriptura”, or “scripture alone”, which was the basis of the Protestant Reformation. Once the reformed church chose to deny the role of the church and the Pope for salvation, it left many people uneasy and looking for a new source for authority. The idea that the truth of God could be revealed to each individual through an thorough, objective reading of scripture, apart from the church and clergy made scripture the basis of authority for many protestants.

        Plus, the idea of “scripture alone” played nicely into the society in the time. In the 1500’s the idea that anyone could own and read a book was just becoming realized. So the idea that each person can access God through rational study of a book, apart from the church, played nicely into the ideology of modern rationalism that was dawning at that time.

        In sort, scriptural inerrancy is a modern invention, from around the 1500’s, intended to apply modern technology and rationalism to the understanding of God.

        The problem, like all religion, is that, just as with the church that preceded Scripture, for too many people the object that is supposed to help us understand God becomes a god in itself. Pretty soon, people began to worship Scripture, instead of seeking to understand God. Just as previous Christians had begun to worship the church, instead of seeking to understand God.

        The problem with religion in general, is people forget the hard, painful work of seeking the God to which religion is guiding us, and start to worship religion on its own, as a replacement for God. After all, it is easier to worship something we can see and pretend to rationally understand, than it is to worship something that is unknown and uncertain. Religion, then, becomes a form of idolatry, where we worship the object, instead of worshiping the God to which the object is directing us.

        There is no biblical basis for the doctrine of scriptural inerrancy. The doctrine derived from an idolatrous attempt to seek certainty and clarity in the face of a God who, by nature, is uncertain and vague.

        • Kevin

          Nicely stated, Curtis. The only thing I might differ on is the assessment that it’s “painful work to seek the God to which religion is guiding us.” I believe it’s ONLY painful because religion has made it such. Religion has taught us that we have to work and strive and DO to connect with God. Christ declared just the opposite. He said that His yoke was easy and His burden was light and he wanted to make this relationship so easy for us that He didn’t give us a book to try to follow, but embedded Himself IN us so that “all” we have to do is yield ourselves to Him.

          • I am at a place in my life where I realize I have used easy answers as a way to avoid the difficult questions that God creates for us. I believe, when Jesus told us he has come that we might have life abundantly, he really meant it. Life with Jesus is a whole, full life, with all of the joy as well as all of the pain. Jesus shows us to walk a full life, a life of all experiences and emotions, not to cherry-pick the easy, happy parts of life and avoid the painful parts. Jesus asks us to follow him, and then shows us the way by walking right through crucifixion, hell, and ultimate salvation. There is plenty of joy and pleasure along the way, but Jesus didn’t run away from the pain and sorrow. Rather, he went through it to full, abundant, eternal life.

            That is what I mean about a whole life with God being sometimes painful. God invites us to live a full life by living through the pain, not by numbing and avoiding pain, and not by giving simple, clear answers, in the way that our culture instructs us.

            I agree that my walk is not about my doing, but rather about experiencing what God is doing. Still, I don’t think God calls us to avoid experience simply because it might be uncomfortable sometimes. God wants us to live, and experience, in full abundance.

            • Kevin

              I guess I misunderstood what you were getting at. I totally agree. As you stated, Christ came to bring us life and to bring it abundantly. I think we tend to read that as a life of butterflies and lollipops and when it’s not, we become bewildered and shake our fists at God. I have come to believe that we have completely misunderstood what Christ meant by that statement. The fullness of life is in joy AND pain.

              My three year old son died of cancer almost four years ago. On my journey, I have learned to engage God in my grief way more than I ever did in joy. It is because of my grief that I’ve come to a place where I feel safe in taking the tough questions to Him and taking my hurt to Him. My life is marked by grief now, but that has brought a richness to life and relationships that many will never have the opportunity to experience. I don’t want to sugarcoat it, because it’s the most awful thing imaginable, but I see God’s fingerprints all over our lives as He has been there through the pain and is revealing Himself in those moments of question and in the relationships that have come as a result.

        • I’m not so sure your history is accurate. Sola scriptura does not exclude reasoning. It was a reaction to the Catholics creating new extra-biblical traditions. So to say it was a modern invention is to deny its claim that it was a return to the original source of truth. If you deny that, then you open the door to anyone claiming they are the authority on God’s word. For me, sola scriptura says you can open your heart and understand God, a dangerous idea, but highly preferable to accepting the dogma of a guy in a funny hat.

          It definitely does not say that you must refer to the Bible for all answers, and I think we agree there. The reformation was about getting free from corrupt hierarchy, about using the head and the heart, about combining faith and works. I would put the invention of inerrancy much later, when all Christianity was threatened by science. There was no longer a human central authority to return to, so lists of “fundamentals” were created.

          • I agree with you, sola scriptura as it was originally asserted was an effort to correct areas where the church had over-reached, and an attempt to return to an earlier understanding of the church. But it did not take long, I don’t know when exactly, for people to grab the mantra “word alone” and start abusing it in a fundamentalist way. I don’t know when sola scriptura began to be mis-used this way, but I agree that the modern abuse of it was not the original purpose for which the doctrine was asserted.

            I think all religious doctrine contains, within itself, the tendency to be used in an idolatrous way; to become an alternative to the more difficult task of experiencing and following God. That is what has happened with the abuse of the sola scriptura doctrine.

            • I see the progression you were trying to demonstrate. That does make sense.

  • These questions have haunted me for much of the past four or five years. As I see it, there are four options, each building on the last. The first is to say the Bible is important because it holds the founding documents of our faith. The second takes it a step further, saying we should generally submit to the teachings of these documents because they are chosen and recognized as authoritative for the life of the Church. The third step is to say that it is not just authoritative but completely infallible in all that it intends to teach. The fourth says it is not only infallible in all it intends to teach but also happens to be inerrant in all of the circumstantial details (ie history and science, etc).

    My faith began with a belief in all four stages of reverence for Scripture. I dropped the inerrancy bit around the time I went to college and started to open up to the theory of evolution. Eventually seeing how different communities were given different instructions at different times, I had to conclude that the Bible was not infallible either, at least in the sense that we should try to follow each and every command given because that would be impossible. Thus, I became the heretic in my conservative Baptist community for suggesting that following the spirit of the law necessarily requires we NOT follow the letter of the law in certain circumstances.

    But now my questions go even deeper. Should I believe that the Bible is called divine revelation because God had some mysterious way of delivering us this text through human authors, or is it a merely human response to their own divine encounters? The Enlightenment liberals want to claim with certainty that the Bible is a strictly human product, but the way that certain things tie together suggests to me that there is a supernatural element as well. In light of this difficulty, I present three possible solutions.

    The first is to view Scripture as similar to the Incarnation. If Jesus is fully God and fully human, why can’t we think of the Bible along the same lines? The text is messy with the full humanity of its authors, but at the same time is somehow completely inspired by God in such a way that it can be considered divine self-revelation. I am not saying I necessarily believe this option, but it was one I have considered several times.

    The second option, which is the one I lean towards today, is to view the Bible as “God’s word” in a much more sacramental fashion. With Communion, a human being takes grain and turns it into bread. God does not make the bread, though a case could be made for God’s causing the grain to grow in the first place. But either way, when the bread is broken and shared at the table, I believe Jesus meets us there in a unique way. The Bible could be the same way. Regardless of whether it records God’s words to people in the past, what makes it important to us today is the fact that God continues to meet us in these words in a unique way. Thus, instead of looking for an eternal word of God to all people at all times, we approach the text in prayer, waiting to see what the Spirit will say to us for today.

    At times when I don’t have the faith to accept that God meets us in the Bible, I take the third option. To give as basic an answer as possible, I say the Bible is the story of God’s relationship with the people of Israel (from whose perspective, I don’t know), and we the Church enter that story through Jesus Christ. But, and I can’t emphasize this enough, the story doesn’t end there. We continue the story today. So the Bible is of high importance for understanding the starting point of our faith. As we learn and reflect, the story expands, but if we are not familiar with where we began, how can we know where we are going? I think we can all agree that the job of the church today is to continue the mission of Jesus, and I’ll take that a step further and say we should try to preserve the legacy of the Apostles. However, this presents a difficult question. How much of the Apostles’ original beliefs and practices must be maintained in order to further their mission into our own place and time? How closely must we hold to their theology?

    I know that’s a lot of thoughts, and in the end I might have just gotten back to the original question without an answer, but I appreciate the opportunity to work out some of my ideas and look forward to seeing how everyone else is working through this issue.

  • Ric Shewell

    I never really answered the question.
    Many of the early church Fathers took literally what could be easily taken literally and allegorically what seemed meant to be allegorical, like the garden of Eden. They all still thought of the Scriptures as a special/specific revelation from God through the prophets and apostles, and were not afraid to call it the Word of God.

    What they didn’t do was flatten out the whole Bible and act as if it was one book. They treated different parts differently. If the flood didn’t really happen, why should that take Jesus off the cross? or discount the resurrection, for that matter?

    Yes, call it the Word of God, it is a special revelation (different from other revelations), but handle it critically and reverently. Don’t make excuses for it, and don’t make it do what it was never meant to do.

    Ric out.

    • Ric, you said “Yes, call it the Word of God” because “it is a special revelation.”

      Do you think it would be safer to say that you choose to believe it is a “special revelation” or “the Word of God,” rather than the blanket statement that it (objectively) is such things?

      If you want to make a knowledge claim, how do you know this to be the case?

      I’m not claiming you’re necessarily wrong. I genuinely want to understand where you’re coming from. It seems to me that you’re making a giant leap, from a subjective statement of belief into an objective statement of knowledge, or “fact.”

      • Ric Shewell

        Well, I don’t think we really have objective access to anything, right? All language is metaphorical. So when I say that Scripture is a special revelation, I mean its different from general revelations of God, namely creation. I don’t think there’s a slam dunk argument that the Bible is God’s special revelation because there’s not a slam dunk argument that God even exists. But I think there’s good reasons to call the Bible a special revelation. Namely, its content and its usage. The Bible says unique things about God, and the Church throughout history has trusted and used the Bible. So, if you believe in God, you got a couple of reasons to be able to call it the Word of God.

        Also, the reason why I avoid saying “I believe” is because I think subjectivity is just as much a pitfall as objectivity. What I personally think or believe doesn’t really matter… Who am I? I can’t possibly think that my subjectivity holds anymore sway than anyone else’s. But I think we can say, “We believe.” So to amend my original statement, I want to say, “Yes, let’s call it the Word of God, we have reasons to believe (and stand in a long tradition of a community that believes) that it is a special revelation from God.”

        I think that that’s pretty close to what I want to say, but I always welcome being sharpened!

        • “Yes, let’s call it the Word of God, we have reasons to believe (and stand in a long tradition of a community that believes) that it is a special revelation from God.”

          I like this. 🙂

  • When I read about Jesus from the memories of his earliest followers, I find him intensly compelling. Even though their memories may not have been perfect, and even though they had some agenda, I find him compelling. I trust him and I follow him. Jesus tells us about the Father, and it is quite different from what we read in the Old Testament.

    I believe the Old Testament was written by people who felt a strong relationship with God. They wrote what they thought God was like, which was usually an advance over what had gone before, but they thought he was angry and violent. I think they were often mistaken about God. Their writing are useful, but incomplete–even defective.

    How can we take the Bible as our sole authority? We must have the judgment to perceive what is important and what is not. My suggestion is to use Jesus as the foundation of our faith and belief instead of blindly following an ‘inerrant’ Bible.

  • Rob

    I believe it is a collection of writings that arose out of the collective (un)conscious of groups of people over the course of time, culture, history. It reflects evolving God images. Does that make it “inspired”? Depends on the definition and author of inspiration.

  • T.S.Gay

    It’s obvious that behind need for the Bible to be “God’s Word” there is substitution for the authority of the RC some new absolute, the Bible or even a confession of faith , a Catholicism of the word.
    This need for authority is rooted in one of the decisive elements of modern thought- the contrast between subject and object. This dichotomy leads to the ideas of a self sufficiency and the language of religion assumes an objective nature.
    The question asked in this thread loses its entire significance if you can realize the non-dual nature of the creative reality. Inspiration and authority are one aspect of the subject/object dichotomy. The realization of the powerfulness and depth of character and community will appear differently, even in the Bible, if one makes the non-dual shift.

  • Keith Titus

    The Bible is the history of people struggling to find meaning. It was written by people (probably all male). Some of them were good writers, some great, others not, but as a whole it’s pretty good literature, albeit not very accurate history (but then history seldom is). It is inspired as all great literature is inspired. God “spoke” into the ear in the same way God spoke to Faulkner and Cervantes and Shakespeare. I have no idea why we need to go much beyond that..

  • I love the scriptures. That has not always been the case. I said I did, but that was out of fear that I would somehow violate this god (Bible) that I worshipped as infallible, inerrant, sole authority. The Scripture (Word of God version) overwhelmed me. I had to figure out how to please God by following every word. It became Law, and I was guilty until proven innocent.
    Now I see it as story, wisdom, history, news, illustration, example, direction, poetry, prose, responses, mistakes, lessons, etc. It mentors me. I have chosen to take Jesus as a model of who I want to be like. There are others who have been in my life who have mentored me as well. I have loved them, and it seems there is a strong resemblance in the way they looked in life and the way Jesus seemed to. I consider the scriptures to be a composite of accounts and stories of God interacting with humans and all that has entailed through many years of history and different cultures. I see God wanting to mentor me, so He sends Jesus. It’s the human Jesus that I’ve grown to love.
    Jesus seemed to understand this so he takes off his robe, gets on the floor and washes his disciples feet. Then he says “A new command I give you, Love each other. Just as I have loved you, love each other”. I think they got it. All I know is the new way of seeing scripture made me want to be like him.

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