I recently found myself in a conversation on facebook with a friend of mine from my evangelical days. I was a youth minister at a particular church, and this friend was a recent high school graduate from the church when I knew her. She messaged me to ask a number of questions about being Episcopalian and about my views on certain Christian themes in general. In this series, I'll simply restate the questions I was asked and then my reply. These are pretty off-the-cuff responses, but precisely the kind of thing a blog is for. In other words, they're pretty rough around the edges.
4. Round 4 took us back to the Bible: Is the Bible God's Word, inerrant, inspired, etc.?
Mmm. Good one. The Bible certainly is the Word
of God. Or at least it can be. The writings are inspired. They were
also preserved under the providence of the Holy Spirit. And for those
with ears to hear it is God's Word. That doesn't mean one follows it
word for word, necessarily. It does mean one meets God in the sacred
page. God's Word is, of course, first and foremost Jesus Christ. The
Scriptures reveal Jesus. But not just as history. For whatever reason,
the scandal of the Scriptures is nearly as great as the scandal of the
incarnation. How can it be that God should use human language to convey
the presence of the Word of God? Sounds very much like, How can it be
that the infinite God should become finite in this one Jewish peasant at
this one time?
So, the Scriptures are more than history. But
they are not like the Qur'an, either. The Qur'an, according to Islamic
belief, was dictated in Arabic from God (or Gabriel) to Muhammed.
Therefore, each and every word is literally a word from God. Therefore,
the Qur'an must be read in Arabic to be read as the words of Allah.
Christians have never had a problem translating the Bible into the
vernacular. If we did, we would only ever read it in Hebrew, Aramaic,
and Greek. So it must not be the Word of God in a purely literal way.
not entirely sure, either, what it would mean to follow only the ideas
or general principles, unless we recognize that the only general
principle Christians read in the Bible is Jesus Christ. On the one hand
it is about the past (Jesus of Nazareth), but on the other hand it's
about the present (Christ through the Spirit), but on yet another hand
it's about the future. So there is some history, but not everything in
it is historical. There are some general principles and moral codes,
but not all of them are ratified by the Spirit in our times (most of the
laws of Leviticus, for instance).
With the early Christians, I
agree that Scripture has multiple levels of meaning. There is the
literal sense, of course, but also the spiritual sense. And within the
spiritual sense there are allegorical, moral, and anagogical senses. In
short, then, the Scriptures are "inspired by God, profitable for
teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness."
The Bible teaches us about God and about Christ, about who this God is
that we worship, but it also teaches the way to this God and what God
expects--it is a training ground for virtue. But it is also (as St.
Augustine once put it) the face of God for now. The Bible is to us, as
Christians, divine discourse. I'm not sure there are any hard and fast
rules about how to listen to God's voice.
And that brings us to
inerrancy. I think it really depends what we mean by inerrant. How can
God's Word possibly err. Of course it cannot. But that doesn't mean
that every bit of it is fitting for every context. Is the book of
Genesis a description of the historical course of events of the
Creation? I very much doubt it. Does that mean that God's Word errs?
Absolutely not, unless we think it is only to be taken as a description
of the historical course of events of creation. If we take it as God's
Word for us, then it still conveys truth. Such as, nature is not divine
in itself, but it does come from God; humans have a responsibility as
stewards of creation; humans are prone to rebellion against their
creator, or at the very least prone to ignoring him. In these truths,
this part of the Word of God is inerrant. And, for those with ears to
hear, the Bible is inerrant in its capacity to make a person a
Christian--to break through the justifications and evasions of our own
illusions and tell us the truth about who we are and about who God is,
and about how far we are from that God who loves us, and how to return.
Is it important whether God created the world in seven literal days,
seven thousand years, or seven million. I don't think so. The
difference between those three scenarios tells me very little about God
or myself or the world we live in that makes any difference to my
So, inerrant? I don't know, because I'm
not sure what that means exactly, or what context we mean it in. But
certainly our final authority and, at least for Christians, the Word of
God. Why do I say, "for Christians"? If it's the Word of God, it's the
Word of God, right? Except the Bible CAN be read as just any other
book--one truth among others. For people who read it this way, it just
isn't the Word of God. It is a book written by humans, after all. That
it is an inspired book, I think, requires the eyes (or ears) of faith.