Part 1a

Part 1b

Objection #2

Objection #3

Objection #1: The Bible Is a Human Book

This objection takes on different forms, ranging from agnostics like Bart Ehrman to Christians like Clark Pinnock.  The question is how or even if we can really refer to the Bible as the word of God, and to varying degrees, different scholars have different opinions.  I hope to draw as clear of a line as I can, but there will remain peripheral issues that are more matters of interpretation than solid facts that need to be clearly decided on one way or the other.

Bart Ehrman

Bart Ehrman

Bart Ehrman

Though he is a self-professed agnostic, I would say that he leans toward atheism rather than theism.  However, at least in principle, his agnostic position does not rule out the possibility that, if there is a God, He could have inspired the text of the Bible.  His problem, though, is that if God did inspire them, surely He would have preserved the words of Scripture (Misquoting Jesus, p.11).  I will address this particular concern when we come to the question of the preservation of the original words, but for our purposes here, Ehrman emphasizes the human element of the Bible and asks , “What if the book you take as giving you God’s words instead contains human words?” (Misquoting Jesus, p.14).  Again, I am not saying that Ehrman acknowledges any of the words of the Bible to be from God, and in fact, sees the Bible as “a human book from beginning to end” (Misquoting Jesus, p.11).  However, in principle, the objection is that even if God did speak some words some time (as I have pointed to in the previous article), what we now call the word of God is riddled with human words, to the point that we can no longer refer to the Bible as God’s word.  This does not necessarily rule out that God might have spoken, but it emphasizes human words to the maximum and God’s words, if any, are minimized.

Clark Pinnock

Clark Pinnock

Clark Pinnock

Clark Pinnock’s position is not as skeptical, but still would not go so far as to say that the Bible could be referred to as the word of God.  Pinnock speaks of scholar Karl Barth when he states, “Barth was right to speak about a distance between the Word of God and the text of the Bible” (Scripture Principle, p.99).  On the next page, we find that it appears Pinnock would agree with Ehrman that the Bible remains a human text (Scripture Principle, p.100), though they would likely disagree on the extent, for in the same sentence, Pinnock claims that God aims to stir up faith in the gospel through inspiration.  In my opinion, Pinnock represents the outer fringe of Christianity in this regard (as he also does in several other controversies not to be dealt with here), for he does not reject that God has spoken and that it can lead us to salvation in Jesus Christ, though he does raise controversial opinions in other important areas.  I mention Pinnock, because I do not wish to argue the peripheral details with those whose views are not too far from mine, but rather to show the bigger picture of the Bible as the word of God, and hopefully, the inadequacy of radically alternate views in the process.

 

The Human Authorship of Scripture

Divine Authorship through Humans

WordObj5The claim of “What Scripture says, God says” is that the designation “word of God” is not limited to passages that explicitly state that “God said” or “Thus says the LORD”, but actually could be used to refer to any part of the Bible, and by implication, the Bible as a whole.  Pinnock rejects this view in so many words (Scripture Principle, p.264) and Ehrman would certainly agree, as he claims “The Bible, at the end of the day, is a very human book.” (Misquoting Jesus, p.12).  What can be said to both parties is that I am not denying that the Bible is a human book.  In fact, that is one of the great aspects of the Bible, for God used human authors to convey His truth to other humans.  What I am denying is that the Bible is merely a human book.  I have included some evidence for the claim that “What Scripture says, God says” in the previous article in this series, but here I will focus on how God might be said to speak through humans.

WordObj-figure 1-2

Pinnock would say that God can speak through imperfect human authors (Scripture Principle, p.103, 105), but he would take it further to say that God even speaks through “a human text beset by normal weaknesses” (Scripture Principle, p.100).  Pinnock also claims that “The prime theological issue which became evident in our survey of options on biblical authority is the need to maintain with equal force both the humanity and divinity of the word of Scripture.” (In Biblical Authority, p.71).  This is where I believe subtle, yet important distinctions need to be made.  One difference is between the Bible containing its own error and the Bible reporting error.  Another difference is between common human characteristics and essential human characteristics.

Claiming Error versus Reporting Error

To suggest the Bible contains error is to say that the Bible claims some things that are not in fact true, like the objection that the Bible claims that the earth WordObj6is flat (I will address scientific issues under objection #2).  However, to suggest that the Bible reports error is merely to say that the Bible shows how some people failed or sinned, without endorsing that error.  In other words, the Bible can still be truth from God in that some things are meant to be understood as false.  For example, in 1 Kings 13:15-18, a man of God is invited to eat at another man’s home, but the man of God refused, because he had been told by God not to eat or drink in that place.  The man then said an angel spoke to him to bring the man of God to his house to eat and drink, but the text clearly says that he was lying to the man of God.  Examples like this do not mean that the Bible is making an error, but simply that the Bible is truthfully reporting what really happened, and in this case, it was a lie.  We can say about the passages that claim truth that God wanted such truth to be communicated and understood, but we can also say about the passages that report falsehood and failure that God wanted us to learn from the bad examples.  The New Testament indicates that what was written before (the Old Testament) was written for instruction, for the purpose of hope and encouragement (Romans 15:4), but also for the purpose of providing bad examples to avoid imitating (1 Corinthians 10:6-11).  So contrary to the human authorship limiting God’s ability to preserve His word, it actually gives Him quite a lot to work with in showing different aspects and expressions of the truth of His word.

Common Characteristics versus Essential Characteristics

WordObj7bHowever, a concept often smuggled in with this objection is “Errare humanum est” or “To err is human”.  The idea is that to do justice to the humanity of the biblical authors, we must admit that they committed error, just like humans very naturally do.  The idea that God would always make His word come through these human authors without error by some miracle seems to some to be robbery of their humanity.  However, just because humans do in fact commit error does not mean they always do so.  Though it can be agreed that humans do generally err, it is not an essential characteristic, but could be described as a common characteristic.  Certainly, when I go to the bank and correctly identify my account number and PIN code, I am still human.  When I go to the immigration office and correctly give the details of my residence in Sweden and that of my family in Canada, I am still human.  Granted, this is a whole lot simpler than recording a whole book of the Bible, or even several, but the principle is the same.  So, if the possibility exists that humans can record written documents accurately, despite their occasional tendency to err, the potential to record God’s word accurately is magnified when we consider the divine element.  Professor Gordon Lewis sums up the view of the human authorship of inspired Scripture very well.

“The human writers were not autonomous, but lived and moved and had their being in the all-wise Lord of all.  Created with a capacity for self-transcendence in the image of God, they could receive changeless truths by revelation.  Providentially prepared by God in their unique personalities, they also had characteristics common to all other human beings in all times and cultures.  Their teaching originated, however, not with their own wills, but God’s and came to them through a variety of means.  In all the human writing processes, they were supernaturally overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, not in a way analogous to mechanical or unworthy human relationships, but as one loving person effectually influences another.  What stands written, therefore, in human language is not merely human but also divine.” (In Inerrancy, p.228).

WordObj-figure 1-3

WordObj8In other words, God can communicate what He wants accurately through humans, even though these humans are not perfect.  God can prepare personalities, abilities, circumstances, encounters, and other means by which to bring about the desired result in the Scripture.  Many people think that the only way God could speak through humans would be to dictate to them word for word what to write, what would be called “mechanical” by Lewis above.  However, I believe this limits God in an unnecessary way, for I see God preparing the human authors to convey His truth.  After all, if God is who the Bible says He is, He can do more than just speak directly, for He can also prepare the authors of Scripture with His purpose in mind.  If He could declare the end from the beginning and that He will accomplish His purpose through a man He calls (Isaiah 46:10-11), certainly He could foresee what He will accomplish through the biblical authors that He would call to write Scripture.  If He could determine the times and dwelling places of every nation that they WordObj8amight seek God (Acts 17:26-27), certainly He could orchestrate the circumstances of the authors of Scripture that they would bear witness to Him as He desired.  If He could set apart at least two authors of Scripture for their special calling before they were even born (Jeremiah 1:5; Galatians 1:15-16), certainly He could do so for the other authors of the Bible.  So understanding the claim in this light makes it all the more likely that God could make His word come through by His divine providence, even though the human authors remain human authors.

Is There a Mixture of God’s Words and the Author’s Words?

A good example of God speaking through humans is found in 1 Corinthians 7, though on the surface, it initially appears to contradict that idea.  1 Corinthians 7:10 says, “To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband”, but oddly enough, 1 Corinthians 7:12 says, “To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her.”  So one command seems to come from the Lord and the next seems to come from Paul himself.  Is this not the word of God mixed together with the word of Paul?  Well, crucial to understanding this passage is in understanding what Paul means when he says “Lord”.  In the New Testament, “Lord” most often refers to Jesus Christ, as is evident elsewhere in 1 Corinthians (1:2-3, 7-10, 2:8, 4:5, 5:4, 9:1, 5, 11:23, 26-27, 12:3, 15:31, 57, 16:23) and even in the chapter before (6:11, 14) and the chapter after (8:6).  WordObj9So Paul is not distinguishing between God’s word and his own word, but between Jesus’ commands and his own commands.  How is that different, if Jesus is God?  Well, Jesus issued commands during His earthly ministry, some of which we can find in the Gospels, and Paul is referring to this material in 1 Corinthians 7:10.  If we look at Mark 10:2-9, we see Jesus being tested with the question of divorce and answering that what God has joined together (the married couple) should not be separated by man.  However, if we jump to 1 Corinthians 7:12, and then proceed to look for a Gospel parallel where Jesus addresses a marriage between a believer and an unbeliever, we will come up empty.  This is not surprising, because Jesus was primarily addressing Jews and thus it would be strange for Him to teach about unbelieving relationships, for Jews were supposed to believe in God.  So Paul was not distinguishing between his words and the words of God here, but his teaching and the teaching of Jesus, and this is supported by other references in 1 Corinthians.  Later on in the same chapter, Paul reminds the Corinthians that he has the Spirit of God (7:40), and even in similar language regarding not having a command from the teaching of Jesus, he describes himself as “one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy” (7:25).  Furthermore, in 14:37 he writes, “If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord.”

WordObj-figure 1-4

Summary

I mentioned in the previous article that Paul teaches words taught by the Spirit and not human wisdom (1 Corinthians 2:13), and that even though Scripture does come through humans, it is not by human will or interpretation, but by speaking from God as they are carried by the Spirit (2 Peter 1:20-21).  To claim that the Bible is the word of God, we do not have to deny that the authors were human, but we do need to understand the variety of ways God could speak through them.  He can speak directly from the sky, He can speak through the humans by His Spirit, and He can providentially prepare the human authors to convey His word.  The fact of the Bible being written by human authors does not rule out its divine authorship.

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