Thursday, May 16, 2024

What Do You Say Scripture Is?

Icon of Jesus holding the Scriptures.

 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned (Galatians 1:6-9).

All the arguments we have about Higher Criticism, about Gospel Reductionism, about Justification; they all have at their central point the same kernel: What is Scripture?

Either the Holy Scriptures are the divinely inspired and inerrant word of God, or they are corrupted. Either the Bible is the product of the omniscient God who created the universe, and spoke to mankind through men as He moved those men by His Holy Spirit, or it is just a collection of texts, created by men, out of which we might be able to extract some kind of significance if we do the right kind of mental gymnastics. Either the Holy Scriptures are the source of all Christian doctrine, and the norm for evaluating that doctrine, or they aren’t. And, if they aren’t, then the only source for doctrine is the devil and the human heart.

Those are our options, as I see it. It will do no good arguing about fine doctrinal points with someone who does not believe that the Bible is divinely inspired and inerrant. That person, even if he doesn't recognize or admit it, has no standard for doctrine. He may come up with anything he likes. The only limit to his creativity is his own intellect. Personally, that terrifies me. I think, however, that this is what is so attractive about modern theological and philosophical schools of thought. The higher critics abandoned the things that limited their thought, and they were free to search out what God really said in the human work of scripture. But that was the whole point of God giving scripture to us in the first place. It serves as an objective standard. It is supposed to be our limiting principle.

And I am at once suspicious of men who look at the word of God and ask the question, “Did God really say?”

But how do we know that scripture is divinely inspired and inerrant? Well, it tells us that it is. That isn't the simplistic argument that it seems. Scripture tells us that it is the product of God inspiring human writers to record His revelation to mankind. It records the movements of people groups; it describes wars and other events of human history. And we tend to find the archeological remnants of those people and their activities where the Bible tells us we will. Alas, secular scholars will dismiss what the Bible tells them about what they have found simply because the information comes from the Bible. But the archeological evidence, as Joel Kramer describes it, is like having five pieces of a 500 piece jigsaw puzzle. The only way to make any sense of those pieces is to look at the picture on the box. The Bible is, for us, that picture.[1]

Moreover, its revelation was accompanied by miracles to confirm the authenticity of its message. The most important proof to an old “Biblicist” such as myself is that Jesus taught the divine character and perfection of the word of God, and He proved that He was God by rising from the dead, so we should pay attention to what He said.

Jesus said that the Bible was about Him. He is the center of all Holy Scripture. After His resurrection when He taught two of His disciples on the road to Emmaus, Jesus explained this to them:

He [Jesus] said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself (Luke 24:25-27).

When Jesus declares to the Pharisees in John 10:25 that the Scriptures cannot be broken, he is declaring that the Scriptures are true and correct; that they are the source from which all teachings are derived. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus declares that He came to fulfill the Scriptures:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-19).

Jesus did not set up a new religion. From Genesis to Malachi there is one primary message: all people are sinful because of Adam and Eve’s disobedience; all deserve God’s wrath because of our corruption. But God promised to send a Savior to deliver us from sin and death. Through faith in that promise, of which Jesus is the fulfillment, people living before the time of Jesus received God’s forgiveness and salvation.

And then, Jesus showed up, said that He was God in human flesh who came to die as the atoning sacrifice for sin, and rose from the dead after He was crucified to death. I'm going to listen to what He says.

But the higher critics won’t. My argument is, to them, a quaint remnant of a less enlightened time. The mere mention of miracles, actions that defy the laws of physics, would have them laughing in my face. They subscribe to the idea that nothing supernatural can be taken at face value. That's why you see higher critical scholars trying to explain Jesus’ walking on the water of the Sea of Galilee by some anomalous weather event that caused ice to form and provide a platform for our Lord to deceive the disciples.[2]

And that means all miracles, including the resurrection of Jesus. Modern scholars will twist themselves into knots talking about a “spiritual” resurrection. They will twist the scriptures any way they have to, to deny that Jesus actually rose from the dead. With St. Paul, however, I say that if Christ is not raised from the dead our preaching is useless, our faith is useless, all the dead are lost, we are still in our sins, and we are the most pathetic people of all:

If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men (1 Corinthians 15:14-19).

I do not, however, believe that the ESV Bible in the pew racks at your church is the divinely inspired inerrant word of God (That would be the NIV 1984, of course.../joking). It is generally taught that the autographs, those original copies which the divinely inspired authors produced, are the inerrant copies.[3] The manuscripts copied from those autographs certainly have errors in them. They don't, however, have errors as the modernists would like you to believe.[4] They will tell you that there are thousands of discrepancies, called textual variants, found between manuscripts![5] How are we to know the truth! So many differences! This might sound impressive until you realize that those so-called variants are incredibly minor. They are things like word order and spelling differences in manuscripts. And the other thing they won't tell you is that literally none of the thousands and thousands of textual variants affects a single point of doctrine.[6]

We have thousands and thousands of manuscript copies of the New Testament going back to the first generation of the Christian Church. They all say the same things. All of them. This wasn't some cosmic game of telephone where God told one guy something, and that guy whispered it to someone else and wasn't allowed to repeat the message, causing errors to creep in, until the final message bore no resemblance to the original one.[7] No, they copied the autographs. Then they checked the copies. Then they copied the copies. Then they checked those copies against the earliest copies they had. And they continued doing this for two millennia. Even today, when someone faithfully translates the Bible into modern language, they go back to the earliest sources available to make sure they are getting it right.

That’s not even considering the Old Testament, and how its text was faithfully preserved.

So, as far as Christian doctrine is concerned, scripture must be the source of it. Francis Pieper, another “Biblicist” who repristinates “dead orthodoxy” put it like this:

“It is impossible to separate these two functions of Scripture: to be the source of the Christian doctrine and to be its norm. The Holy Scriptures are the norm of the Christian doctrine only because they are its only source” (Pieper, 1950).[8]

We read what Scripture says about creation and mankind, how we were created perfect by a gracious God, and how we rejected that perfection by disobedience to His Law. We learn from Scripture the depth of our corruption by sin; that it is complete; so complete, in fact, that while we might realize that something isn't right with us, we can't recognize the problem in its entirety, let alone solve it. We must be taught that we are sinful creatures, lost and condemned. And, to set things right, God took on human flesh, was born of a woman, lived a sinless life and died as the vicarious atonement for the sins of the world.

It is through the working of the Holy Spirit through the means of God’s word, that He creates faith in Christ in us, giving us the gifts of His forgiveness, life, and salvation.

Pieper, again, says it better than I could:

Every theologian should be able to see that we are here confronted with an [sic] aut-aut. Either we accept Scripture as God's own Word and, emphasizing it as the sole source and norm of theology, teach doctrinam divinam, or we deny that Scripture is God's infallible Word, distinguish in it between truth and error, and teach, in God's Church, the “visions of our own heart,” the doctrina humana of our Ego. The divine authority which we take away from Scripture we necessarily assign to our own human mind. We are adrift on the sea of subjectivism. Human opinion occupies the rostrum in the Church. Theology is no longer theocentric, but has become anthropocentric” (Pieper, 1950).[9]

And, if we were to do that, we would be doing the devil’s will. ###

End Notes

[1] Kramer, Joel P. 2020. “Where God Came Down: The Archaeological Evidence.” Introduction, p. 8. Brigham City: Expedition Bible (an imprint of Sourceflix Inc.).

[2] Borger, Julian. “Jesus Was Walking on Thin Ice, Claim Scientists.” the Guardian, February 22, 2017.

[3] Koukl, Greg. “‘Misquoting’ Jesus? Answering Bart Ehrman,” n.d.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Barnett, Tim. “Textual Variants: It’s the Nature, Not the Number, That Matters,” n.d.

[6]Koukl, Greg. “‘Misquoting’ Jesus? Answering Bart Ehrman,” n.d.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Pieper, Francis. 1950. “Christian Dogmatics,” vol. 1. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

[9] Ibid.

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