How we approach the Bible: A reason to begin again
By Ron Simkins
Often today we are presented with a forced choice about how we think about the Bible. Either it is “inerrant in every way” or “it is unreliable.” This is a very non-biblical forced choice that has developed in the modern world. Either choice undermines God’s real method and purpose in inspiring and preserving the scriptures for his people and for the human race. Even worse, because the “inerrancy” philosophy does not fit the biblical data itself, it often leads believers to either decide that they do not believe or that they believe in spite of the bible.
SOME ERRORS ARE OURS, NOT THEIRS
Of course, quite often the error is in how many of us Christians have interpreted the Bible rather than in the writings themselves. For example, in spite of all the claims that some Christians make about God creating in six days of 24 hours each; it is clear from the text itself that the writer/editor of Genesis 1-2 never meant for the Hebrew word “Yom” to only mean 24 hours. It is used a dozen different ways just in Genesis 1 and 2. And, it seems ludicrous to think that the first human was created on the last part of the 6th 24 hours, and then named all the animals, and then got so lonely he couldn’t stand it – all in 3 hours?
SOME ERRORS ARE THE WRITERS’ ERRORS
Some of the errors are in the text. The Biblical writers, and those who saved those writings for us in what has come to be called “the Bible,” were not bothered by minor errors of memory. There are many examples—here is one.
In Luke 1:1-4, the author says that one of the main goals of his research and writing is to take “eyewitness” reports and clean them up into a more “orderly” account of Jesus’ life. It seems pretty clear that he either had Mark, or most of the materials that came to be Mark, as one of these eyewitness sources. When Luke re-writes the account of the healing of a blind man at Jericho, he sees that the Markian account says that it occurs “as they were leaving” Jericho. Luke is sure that he knows better, because he knows of another eyewitness story that occurred after the blind man is healed on the way into Jericho (Zacchaeus); so he corrects the account to read “as they were entering” Jericho. (Cp. Mark 10:46 and Luke 18:35).
The Bible is mainly about INCARNATIONAL inspiration, not an “inerrantly controlled” inspiration, and the biblical writers saw it that way themselves.
RELIABLE IS REAL
On the other hand, the Biblical writers have proven to be far more reliable in their claims about places, history, people, and God than a “JUST a human book” would be. Obviously, this makes a class topic, not a short blog topic, but here’s an example.
Until this decade, it was common for many scholars to say that the claim that there was a “House of David” dynasty was really a myth made up much later than David. No one in Israel could have been that powerful at the time of David. Then, just as the sun was going down on an archaeological dig at Tel Dan, it happened to hit a rock that had already been looked at and moved past. The rays just happened to glance off the rock in a manner that caught the attention of Gila Cook a surveyor for the team, who just happened to be out for an evening walk in that area. What she saw has astounded the world of archaeology/history. She saw an inscription on the rock that was a Moabite inscription talking about a war with “the house of David.” This inscription is pretty securely dated between 800-900BC. David’s dynasty did in fact exist even in the knowledge of foreigners and enemies.
Of course, there are unanswered legitimate questions about Biblical claims to historical events. Unless the papyri of Ipuwer in Egypt refers to the Exodus event, we haven’t found anything that does so far, not even campsites on the Sinai journey. Many archaeologist/historians claim that the evidence of the destruction of Jericho just doesn’t fit the Biblical timetable.
INCARNATION IS GOD’S PREFERRED METHOD
If God needs to do so, the biblical writers believe that God can speak “inerrantly” through a donkey or by a hand writing on a wall. But, the entire Bible is predicated on the claim that God’s goal and preferred methodology is to INCARNATE THE HUMAN SPHERE with the spirit of God. The Biblical writings show this at every level. They are very human documents expressing the times, the culture, the personalities, the gifts and limitations of the authors, AND, many a reader of the Bible, believer and unbeliever, brilliant and less than brilliant, Jewish, Christian, and atheist, have in the reading found themselves confronted with the presence and reality of the God of the prophets and writers.
Clearly, some readers do not find themselves so confronted. And, even those of us who do at times, do not always. But, the biblical writers knew that as well. And, unlike many modern Christians, they also knew that you can quote the Bible word for word, but if you apply it in the wrong context, it becomes abusive, a temptation, and ultimately it ceases to be God’s word, even as it is being quoted accurately (Matthew 4:6).
Let’s not fear the very reality that God prefers: The amazing meeting of heaven and earth; the wedding of the human and the holy spirit; the wonder of a real relationship between God and humans exactly where and when we live. That is God’s preferred way, because it is also his goal for the coming age.