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Monday, June 26, 2006

More on the Proper View of Scripture

In response to my last post, frequent commenter Gordon Cloud wrote:

I think that ultimately we must ask ourselves, "What is the Word of God?"
Regular readers of my blog already know that one of the things that marks my blog is a willingness (some might even say "eagerness") to ask the hard questions and challenge the status quo. I hope, however, that you all understand that this tendency in me is not just an attempt to question for the sake of questioning. It is how I think through issues and work through beliefs. And it's a practice that refreshes me, even if it annoys some of my readers! ;)

So, when I read Gordon's comment, it struck a chord with me, because I was already heading in that direction. Let's start by taking a look at some common teachings and assumptions in the body of Christ today:

  • The term "Word of God", with the exception of in the context of John 1 refers to the Bible.
  • Any references to "word" (such as Psalm 119:9-16, Psalm 119:89, Psalm 138:2, John 17:17, Colossians 3:16, James 1:22, etc.) are references to our Bible
  • When Paul says that "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God" (2 Timothy 3:16), he is referring to the sixty-six books of the canon that we call the Bible
  • The Bible is the complete word of God to us today, and contains 100% of the instructions we need for life (this belief is called "the sufficiency of Scripture")
  • We are commanded in Scripture to study the Bible (2 Timothy 2:15 in the KJV) in order to show that we are "approved workmen" and so that we can "rightly divide" the Scriptures.
Now, I must first of all say that I am not automatically saying that all of these notions are bad. Nor am I even saying that they are all totally wrong. But I think we owe it to ourselves to take a step back and look at what we are really saying, and make sure that we are speaking accurately. With that in mind, I want to take a look at some of these points and see how they hold up.

As with most of my posts, I'm "thinking out loud" here, and welcome any comments, even in disagreement. I sincerely hope I don't lose readers on this one, but hopefully most of you will give me the grace to talk through this, and may even talk through it with me.

Do all (or even any) references to "word of God" refer to our Bible? To answer this question, we need to be aware of a few things. First of all (and I already mentioned some of this in the comments on the previous post), there are generally two Greek words that are often translated as "word" in the New Testament. They are familiar to most, and are logos and rhema. I have often heard it said that logos refers to the written word, while rhema refers to the spoken word. However, this does not hold water in New Testament usage. For example, in Matthew 8:8 the centurion says to Jesus, "Just say the word", which is the Greek word logos. Unless he was asking Jesus to quote from the Old Testament, I think it's rather difficult to say that logos is a written word there.

Getting back to the question at hand, though, if references to "word" in Scripture referred to our Bible, then the fact remains that every usage of that in the Bible would have to be prophetic in nature. In other words, when David says, "Your word is a lamp unto my feet", he would have to be referring to a future "word", including the sentence that he had just penned. Now, I am entirely willing to concede the idea that David could have been speaking prophetically to some extent, but the context of his statements (especially all the many references in Psalm 119) doesn't really make a whole lot of sense, if the meaning is mostly prophetic.

Even beyond David, however, what of all the references to "the word" in the New Testament? When Paul wrote to Timothy and said, "Preach the word", was he talking about expositional preaching? Was he referring to preaching the Bible? Even if he was, what "Bible" did Timothy have? It was only the Old Testament. (Somehow, I have difficulty picturing Timothy preaching expositorally from Paul's letter to him, but that's beside the point!)

As I have noted in previous comments, there is a bit of an anachronism for us to assume that "word" in the Bible refers to our "completed canon". And this is demonstrated even more so by the fact that translations such as the NASB translate both logos and rhema as "message" on more than one occasion. I think the translators understand something. It is not so much the specific books that we have canonized that are the "word of God", but the message that is contained within them.

Now, I realize this flies in the face of many popular evangelical notions about inspiration and inerrancy, but for that I'm not sure I can really apologize. If looking at what the Bible actually says causes us to rethink our popular notions, than by all means, let's rethink them! Many would draw a very clear distinction between saying the Bible is the word of God vs. the Bible contains the word of God. And those who would draw that distinction most likely would say that the former is the "correct" view, while the latter somehow demeans the value of Scripture.

So, since I've brought up the subject of inspiration, let's look at that with relation to the topic at hand. The classic "proof" of inspiration of the Scripture is Paul's statement to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:16. In this verse, we read that "all Scripture" is inspired by God. This statement is (again, anachronistically) extrapolated out to refer to the sixty-six books we hold in our bound Bibles. But I think we need to be really honest here and look at what Paul actually says. (I realize I'm stepping on toes, but please hear me out!) Let's look at the context in 2 Timothy 3:14-17. I'll use the NASB here:

You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
When Paul says "all Scripture", to what is he referring? I believe that the best interpretation is to see this as a reference to the "sacred writings" of the previous sentence. And again, what would these sacred writings have been? The Old Testament. This is what Timothy had been studying.

Now, am I arguing against an inspired New Testament? Honestly, no. At least not at this point! But let me say that I don't believe we are completely straightforward in our normal evangelical treatment of this topic. For example, when Paul states to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 7:25 that he does not have a command from the Lord, but gives his opinion, we have only two possible interpretations as it relates to the doctrine of inspiration.

  1. Paul really was inspired by the Holy Spirit, but just didn't know it, and so he thought he was giving his opinion.
  2. Paul knew that he was inspired by the Holy Spirit, but said it was his opinion anyway.
Now, unfortunately, in both of these scenarios, someone is either lying or being manipulative. (Hang with me, folks. I know this is difficult.) If Paul was being inspired by the Holy Spirit to write this statement, and the Holy Spirit told him to write that it was his opinion only, the Holy Spirit is being deceptive. Obviously, I reject this idea immediately! But that leaves the other possible alternative that Paul himself was being deceptive. Unless we consider a third possible alternative: Could it be that, at least in that sentence, Paul really is writing his own opinion and is not under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit? I'll leave my horrified readers to think through the implications of that alternative. ;)

Suffice it to say that I don't believe the doctrine of inspiration is completely honest about situations like that one. There also seems to be a distinct difference between Old Testament writers who fully understood they were writing "the word of God" and New Testament authors such as Paul who seem to be fully unaware that they are writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

How does all this relate to the issue at hand? Quite simply that we have to be careful in casually applying 2 Timothy 3:16 to the canon itself. (Please note that I am not saying it is impossible! I just think that we have to be honest about the problems it presents.)

This post is getting lengthy, and most of my regular readers have stopped reading by now and taken any links to my site off their blogs, I'm sure! hehe So let me wrap up by looking at the last of my initial bullet points.

Are we commanded to "study" the Scripture? Is studying the Scripture a way of proving anything to God? Does it make us "approved" in His sight? 2 Timothy 2:15 is the key verse for the AWANA program in so many churches. AWANA stands for "Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed" and their entire program is based on Scripture memory.

Well, I took some time yesterday and today to look at this verse. Once again, I have this annoying feeling that what I've been taught for so many years does not necessarily stand up to scrutiny. You see, nowhere else in the New Testament do the translators of the KJV translate that Greek word (spoudazo) as "study". In fact, that same word appears in the same form (imperative) two other times in the very same letter to Timothy (2 Timothy 4:9 and 2 Timothy 4:21). And in neither case did the translators use "study". In fact, it would not have made any sense. In both of these other verses, they translated it as "Do thy diligence", presumably a 17th-century way of saying "Be diligent".

So, if that is the case, why would it be any different in 2 Timothy 2:15? To this end, the translators of the NASB chose "Be diligent" as the translation in 2:15. In the chapter 4 case, they used "Make every effort". Same concept. This seems so much more consistent to me, and makes sense. Paul wasn't telling Timothy to try to excel in Scripture memory. (In fact, Timothy probably already had huge portions of the Scripture memorized since he had been taught it from a very early age.) Why would Paul tell someone who has already been diligently studying the Scriptures to "study" those same Scriptures? That seems odd to me. But the idea of being diligent to be an approved workman fits nicely with a lot of what Paul wrote elsewhere (such as his analogy of running the race, etc.) in his letters.

So what does this all mean? I've thrown a lot of information out there, with probably a lot more questions than answers. However, let me sum up a few bullet points of where I'm currently heading in my thinking:

  • Jesus' statement to the Pharisees in John 5:39 shows us the danger of making Scripture the focus of our study as opposed to Jesus Himself. The life does not come through the Scriptures, but rather through the One to Whom the Scriptures point.
  • As Paul mentioned to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:15, Scripture is "able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus". In other words, it is a means to an end, not an end in and of itself.
  • The "word" that is referenced so often in the New Testament seems much more related to the actual message contained in the Scriptures, not the very Scriptures themselves. And specifically, it is the message of Jesus Christ. To whatever extent we teach or preach (regardless of church system), it seems to me that we must be preaching and teaching the message of Christ. And while it is true that Paul said Scripture is useful for teaching, doctrine, instruction in righteousness, etc., it is the relationship with the living Word, Jesus Himself, and the indwelling Holy Spirit that we are to move toward.
You see, Paul didn't say that Scripture was the only thing, or that it was "sufficient". He said it was "useful" (or "profitable") for these things. I challenge each of my readers to try very hard not to go beyond what the Bible says about itself in formulating our view of the Bible itself.

From that standpoint, I find it ironic that Dan Phillips accused me of being "fascinated and enthralled with the blank spaces in between the lines of Scripture." It would seem that those who elevate Scripture to the point of it being an end in itself (even claiming to have a relationship with the Scriptures) are adding their own thoughts in between the lines of Scripture.

Until next time,

steve :)

24 comment(s):

I am not really addressing the entire post, but just one aspect... Paul's writings were considered Scripture. I agree that the OT is what is often referenced in the NT when discussing Scripture; however, in 2nd Peter 3, we see Peter referring to Paul's writing as Scriptures (graphe).

And, also Timothy would have read Paul's writings to the entire church. He may not have preached from it expositionally, but he certainly would have 'preached' it within the confines of the believers gathering.

Again, I am not addressing the entire post -- simply making some observations.

By Blogger Ray, at Tuesday, June 27, 2006 9:08:00 AM  

Ray, I appreciate your thoughts. The 2 Peter 3 reference is an appropriate one to point out, and I'm not sure exactly what the implications of it are. The word graphe is usually (always?) used in the NT in reference to "Scriptures", and so could very likely mean exactly what you said -- that Paul's writings were considered as Scripture.

Thanks for bringing that up. With regard to the statement that Timothy would have read Paul's letters to the church, is there evidence of this? (I'm asking to know, not challenging) The point that I was trying to make in that regard was simply that I am not sure that Paul thought he was writing "Scripture" when he wrote that letter to Timothy. But knowing how Timothy handled it would certainly shed light on that. Are there resources that you know of that attest to this?

Thanks again for commenting. I know this post sounds like I'm really going off the deep end, and I want to assure my readers that I am not!! :) Just working through a lot of preconceptions and things I've always assumed were more clear than they seem to be.

steve :)

By Blogger Steve Sensenig, at Tuesday, June 27, 2006 9:28:00 AM  

Steve,

In our exchanges on Pyro, which led to this topic, I mentioned that I was under the impression you were attacking the scriptures, though you might not think so. I later re-read what you had written in your comment and retracted my statement out of benefit of the doubt. Well, I'm back to my original impression.

You have some major flaws in your underlying presuppositions that you're using as a spring board to support your arguments. And I take serious issue as a fundamental misunderstanding of doctrine.

1) You keep referring to the Pharisees and their over emphasis on the written word of God. But that example is completely flawed for one very significant reason. The Pharisees weren't flawed because they over emphasized it. They were flawed because they were unregenerate and possessed zero ability to comprehend the scriptures they held so dearly. What was true for the Pharisees is true for people in our generation who are unsaved. They lack the spiritual capacity to understand and comprehend that which can only be comprehended by faith; and that faith comes from God.

2) You keep trying to make a distinction between the logos and the rhema, which must force you down one of several paths:
a. They are consistent with one another and therefore sufficient for the believer
b. They are inconsistent with one another, which begs the question of what can we trust?

3) You raise those who have come before us, who kept God's word, as being prophetic because they didn't possess the canon of scripture we hold today
a. What they did have was sufficient for them, though they did not have the fuller revelation that we have today
b. They still held to what they believed by faith
c. They still believed in the preservation of God's word

My problem with your train of thought is that you are attacking Preservation. And in attacking it, you are now relegating "the word" to something that is subjective. And in making the distinction that you're trying to make, you are ultimately attacking Inerrancy.

This is not a discussion of versions or translations. Believers possess a witness within us that testifies to what is and is not the word of God. One such test of everything that was considered for the canon was consistency with other scripture.

If there is consistency in the scriptures, then live by it and manifest that you truly are a believer. If they are inconsistent, in your opinion, then what confidence do you have in anything you cling to?

I am truly grieving over this. You are a likeable guy and I've certainly appreciated our exchanges. But to say you believe the scriptures and to subsequently question "what are the scriptures" is quite deceiving. I actually feel as if I've been tricked by you over the last couple of days and was hoping that you would let things die and be content with what God has provided.

Instead, you've continued with this and I now am in a position where if I ignore you, I look as if I condone what you're saying. And I do not. My other alternative is to admonish you, which calls me to question and doubt whether I'm even qualified to do so. The temptation on this has been tearing at me and I am making this comment to you out of love and fear.

Please re-consider what you hope to accomplish through all of this. Again, I have truly enjoyed our dialogue up to this point. And I hope to enjoy future dialogue with you. But unless you change your course, I'm afraid I will have to question whether we have any common ground in our discussions.

It is my prayer that God will sanctify this comment and cause it to be edifying to you and that we can continue to enjoy fellowship.

-Mike

By Blogger Mike Y, at Tuesday, June 27, 2006 9:36:00 AM  

It was a practice in that day to read letters from the elders aloud (witness Acts 15:30, Colossians 4:16). Also, the letters were addressed to entire congregations generally...

Now, as regards Paul's letter to Timothy, I am not sure, but I would believe that he would read it to the leaders at a minimum.. We also know that within a generation these letters were considered Scripture, as Polycarp quotes from them...

By Blogger Ray, at Tuesday, June 27, 2006 12:10:00 PM  

Mike, thank you for taking the time to comment. I don't know how much you have read my blog in the past, but if you have spent any time reading it, I doubt you would feel "tricked" by me. I am not out to deceive anyone or to trick anyone. The only motivating factor I have is to work out my beliefs so that I am believing by faith in things that have been revealed, and not merely the resulting conclusions of others.

Please know that no one's silence on any thread implies a "condoning" of what I am working through. In fact, had you not commented on this thread, I would not have even made any assumption as to whether or not you even came and read it! This forum is not analogous to me lecturing in a physical hall with physical people listening with physical ears. In that context, your silence may show a tacit condoning, but in this forum, that need not be assumed.

Let me address some of the comments you make, to help clarify where I'm coming from, and to make sure we aren't just talking past each other based on presuppositions.

With regard to your point 1 -- the Pharisees. I recognize that there is genuine debate about the proper rendering of John 5:39. However, I believe that the best rendering is not the imperative. The context, to me, renders an indicative interpretation as the more consistent reading.

I'm open to disagreement on this, Mike. But I need you to demonstrate from the text at hand why you find my conclusion about the Pharisees to be wrong. If Jesus did speak in an indicative manner ("You search the Scriptures because in them you think is life.") then it definitely speaks to a mishandling of Scripture.

He says clearly that the Scriptures point to Him. That tells us that if our study of Scripture does not lead us to faith in Him, then we are not handling it (Scripture) properly. Can we agree on that much at this point?

Point 2 -- logos vs. rhema. Actually, I have not argued here at all for any distinction. Maybe I didn't word it as well as I should, but I tried to make the point that I did not see any distinction in the New Testament between those two words. They are used interchangeably. I was trying to dismantle that idea of there being a "written" word and a "spoken" word that somehow carried different implications. To state it clearly, for the record, I do not distinguish any longer between logos and rhema because of their usage in the context of the entire New Testament by various authors.

Point 3 - I'm not sure what you're taking issue with here, so you'll have to clarify. I think that Hebrews 1 really comes into play here, though, in demonstrating for us that the culmination of the Word of God in the Old Testament (i.e., through the prophets) is not the New Testament. It is Jesus Himself.

My problem with your train of thought is that you are attacking Preservation. And in attacking it, you are now relegating "the word" to something that is subjective. And in making the distinction that you're trying to make, you are ultimately attacking Inerrancy.

Mike, I'm not trying to attack anything. The very fact that we have thousands of existing Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, and the fact that those manuscripts agree with each other in such huge percentages speaks to "preservation". That shows us how much we can trust the accounts written in those texts. I've not referred to that at all.

You said that I am relegating the word to something that is "subjective". You yourself said that we have a "witness within us". That type of language is usually considered to be subjective by others. So how am I being any more subjective than you? For that matter, what did I say that is construed as "subjective"?

If all that we believe is true, then we should not fear subjecting our beliefs to examination. But your perspective seems to start with the doctrines that are taught (i.e., inerrancy, inspiration) and then not accept any attempt to test those doctrines against Scripture. I would kindly suggest that approach might be a bit backwards.

Having said all that, Mike, I will reiterate my point that I force no one to participate in these discussions. No one will judge you one way or the other if you choose not to participate.

I consider you my brother, and I welcome any dialogue you offer. I'm not preaching my thoughts as the absolute truth. I'm "thinking out loud" and allowing myself to question some things I have held to for many years. That should not, in and of itself, be reason for judgment or assumptions that I am attacking anything.

And there is definitely no need to fear commenting here. I'm not going to attack you if you differ with me, Mike. I appreciate your spirit and your tone, and you have given me no reason to think anything but positive things about you. We might be coming at some things from different angles, but that does not need to be a bad thing, or cause for separation.

Allow me to offer one word of caution: Be careful what doctrines you identify as "separation" doctrines. You said, "But unless you change your course, I'm afraid I will have to question whether we have any common ground in our discussions." What is the "common ground" that we should all be striving for? Paul says it is the "unity of the faith". And what (or more appropriately, Who) is the object of our faith? Jesus Christ.

I have not said anything here at all that should cause you to question my faith in Jesus. And if we both have faith in Jesus, we have common ground.

Maybe you didn't mean it as such, but by saying that you would have to question whether or not we have "common ground" sounds like you are implying that you would question whether or not we were both believers. That requires you to put inerrancy, inspiration, and other doctrines on the same level as faith in Jesus as requirements for salvation and unity. I personally think that's a tricky road to walk down.

Stick with me if you want to, bro, and let's talk through this together. If not, I hold nothing against you. At any rate, don't ever fear speaking your mind to me. I don't intentionally try to convince people that I'm a likable guy, but I do try to make sure that all my discussions are tempered with the gentleness of the Spirit, which is something Paul said is important.

Under His Grace,
steve :)

By Blogger Steve Sensenig, at Tuesday, June 27, 2006 12:29:00 PM  

Ray, thanks for that comment. A couple of questions with regard to the early church's use of those letters.

1. Do we know for sure that they were considered as Scripture when they were first written/read? I don't necessarily disagree with your point about Polycarp, but does that automatically prove the point at hand? (Again, I'm asking, not challenging. I think you know me well enough by now that I don't need too many disclaimers on my comments to you!)

2. The personal letters were especially the ones that I was wondering about. Obviously, a letter to an entire church in a city would be read aloud, or at least passed around (probably read aloud -- I don't think everyone in that culture was literate). And Paul even encourages them to share letters with other cities. But the personal letters seem different to me.

Still thinking. Thanks for the answer, though. I'll have to check out the Polycarp stuff a bit to see what is being demonstrated there.

steve :)

By Blogger Steve Sensenig, at Tuesday, June 27, 2006 12:34:00 PM  

Steve,

I think you're smart enough to realize you're probably not the first guy to ask these sorts of questions about the Bible...and that others have probably endeavored to answer them. (Holier men on both sides than myself, to be sure.)

I think you would profit from a couple of books:

"The Word of God with Power" by Dr. Jack Taylor

"Authority" by D. Martin Lloyd-Jones

"How to Read the Bible for All It's Worth" by Dr. Gordon Fee.

Okay, that's three and not a couple. Humbly, I believe they all address the things you are thinking aloud about.

Additionally, you might peruse the first few chapters of the Westminster Confession of Faith. It addresses also some questions about what the Scripture is, and how we know it, etc.

I hope none of this sounds condescending. I recommend these because I personally have struggled with many of the things you are voicing, and found these resources both mentally satisfying and spiritually edifying.

By Blogger Gordan, at Tuesday, June 27, 2006 1:18:00 PM  

Steve, I would like to point out a couple of things here. One, the list of teachings you gave is more than mere "assumption", these are conclusions that have been drawn after literally centuries of cumulative study of the Bible.

Two, I do believe that the perspective you are presenting causes the Bible to become something that is subjective. If the Bible only contains the Word of God, how do we determine what is "scripture" and what isn't?

Also, how do we know the NT writers were unaware that they were writing scripture?

I think I know you well enough (at least in a blogging sense) to know that you would not "attack" the scriptures, but I do hope that you will understand the concerns that I and some other commentors may have that this perspective you are considering at the very least weakens the absolute authority of the scriptures in matters of doctrine.

God bless.

By Blogger Gordon Cloud, at Tuesday, June 27, 2006 1:40:00 PM  

Gordan, I don't take that as condescending at all. Thanks for the feedback. I thought for a minute that you were Gordon Cloud, until I saw your avatar. Cute! ;)

Yeah, I definitely realize that I'm not by any means the first to ask these questions. I don't fancy myself as any kind of trailblazer, really.

With your recommendations in mind (and I will try to look at at least some of the recommended reading as I work through these questions), I will tell you what I have observed, though, about these questions in practical life:

1. People who ask these questions are often marginalized by the body of Christ. I think this is quite unfortunate because I think it's healthy for all of us to work through these issues at some level.

2. The intent of the questions is so frequently misunderstood. Those of us who ask these types of questions are usually viewed as a) wolves among sheep (could not be further from the truth, at least in my case!), b) people who are unwilling to accept what God has already done (major red herring), c) people who disregard history/tradition (I don't disregard it, I just don't see it as authoritative), or d) flat-out unbelieving heretics.

Like I said in my comment to Mike above, if what we believe is actually true, then we shouldn't fear scrutiny of it. The scrutiny can only strengthen our confidence in what we believe. Or, on the other hand, it might show us that we weren't completely right, and if that is the case, why would we want to continue to hold to something that is not completely right?

The unfortunate reality is that there are many in the body of Christ (I would guess, just on experience, that this is an incredibly high majority of confessing believers) who have no idea why they believe in inspiration, inerrancy, the Trinity, or any other number of beliefs that are commonly confessed.

In fact, I would even go further and say that many probably believe that there are verses that speak directly and plainly to these doctrines, when the reality is that there are not.

As an example (and not to get off into eschatology discussions), I believed for many, many years (about 30) that there was very clear teaching in Scripture about a pre-trib rapture. And even when I started to question it in college, I bailed out on the question because "my professors obviously have studied this and know more than I do about it."

Now, I am no longer pre-trib in my eschatology. Because when someone challenged me on it, and I told them confidently that the Scripture taught it plainly, they asked me to show them. After a couple of days of searching and trying to read back up on the subject, I realized that I couldn't.

I guess, to put it another way, I get a bit weary of "derived doctrine" (that which is reasoned out by virtue of linking proof-texts together) being given the same position of authority as what Scripture actually says. If someone gets a pre-trib rapture out of the Scripture, then I don't fault them for holding to it. But most of the time, it's "Well, so-and-so said such-and-such about this verse" and the "whisper down the lane" theology continues.

Does that make any sense? At any rate, thanks for stopping by and commenting. So nice to know that I have a super-hero reading this blog! ;)

steve :)

By Blogger Steve Sensenig, at Tuesday, June 27, 2006 1:42:00 PM  

Gordon Cloud, ok, now it's really you commenting! ;) Thanks for coming by, brother.

...I do hope that you will understand the concerns that...this perspective you are considering at the very least weakens the absolute authority of the scriptures in matters of doctrine.

I do definitely appreciate the concern expressed here by the commenters, and I definitely am taking that to heart.

If the Bible only contains the Word of God, how do we determine what is "scripture" and what isn't?

I'm not sure it's something that takes a lot of guesswork. Here's what we do know:

1. All Scripture is given by inspiration (literally, God-breathed, right?).

2. Peter tells us that no prophet spoke of his own accord, but was "carried along" by the Holy Spirit.

3. These utterances are easily identifiable in the Old Testament, because the prophet says things to the effect of, "Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying..." or "Thus saith the Lord..."

4. Likewise, in the Gospels, we have a record of things that Jesus said.

5. Similarly, there are places in the epistles where Paul says that what he is saying is "from the Lord". Sometimes we can match these things up with statements in the gospels, sometimes we have to presume he is referring to some of the direct revelation he testifies about.

But then, what happens in a situation such as I referenced where Paul says, "I have no command from the Lord, but here's my opinion"? Should that be handled differently? Paul seemed to think so. Was he wrong? Was it really from the Lord, and he just didn't know it? That's possible, but why would God inspire him to say that it wasn't from the Lord?

In other words, I think it is pretty crystal clear when the spoken word of God is being put down in writing for us. I don't think that has to be as subjective (or even subjective at all) as we're making it sound.

To use another example, when a prophet says, "The word of the Lord came to me, saying...", what follows is the word of the Lord. But does it really make sense to say that the statement "The word of the Lord came to me, saying..." is also the "word of the Lord"? That strikes me as a bit odd. What do we gain by that?

If what is identified as the word of the Lord is received as the word of the Lord, what is the danger in saying that what is not identified as such is subject to testing?

To restate another point I have tried to make (and maybe I'm just making too many points at once!), the testimony of the New Testament, both by Jesus, Paul, and the author of Hebrews (if it isn't Paul) is that the "Scriptures" contained the revelation necessary to point us to Jesus. In Him, we live and move and have our being. The Scriptures, as Jesus said, are not the source of life. He is.

So, from that standpoint, I would question the use of "absolute authority" as a descriptor of Scripture. Can we derive that designation from Scripture itself? If Paul said that all Scripture is "profitable" or "useful", does that equate to absolute authority?

And note that by asking this question, I am not presenting a dichotomy between either having absolute authority or having completely subjective authority. Because we do have recorded in Scripture where absolute authority resides: in Jesus. He says, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me."

I'll stop at that point and let people respond if they want to. But I do really want to make clear that I'm not arguing against Scripture's testimony at all. I believe that, as Paul told Timothy, the Scripture is able to lead us to a place where we can put our faith in Jesus. And the metaphors that Jesus used (such as the vine and the branches) are living interactions whereby we live in Him and He lives in us.

Is this making any sense? I know it's hard to take off the glasses that say "If someone doesn't articulate it in these words, they are probably on a slippery slope to liberalism and denying Christ", but hear me out, my friends! If anything, I am arguing for something better! Something that takes us to the Source Himself.

We all would agree on that, I'm sure, but I think that we cloud the issue (no pun, Gordon!) by assigning properties to Scripture which Scripture does not assign to itself.

steve :)

By Blogger Steve Sensenig, at Tuesday, June 27, 2006 2:10:00 PM  

You have SO nailed it brother!...well in a long winded sort of way...tee hee-teasing you...but much better than I could have articulated. I suppose I'm naive or else I've been out of IC for so long that I forget the issues that arise. it all seems so perfectly natural to me to assume that Christ is the Word/word...of every kind...and the pursuit, sufficiency, fulfillment, inspiration, and preaching of HIM is the answer. This I can hear clearly hear Him in my spirit..."I AM"...
Thank you for being brave enough to think outside the box...

By Blogger Jada's Gigi, at Tuesday, June 27, 2006 3:25:00 PM  

To live outside the box...its a wonderful place!

By Blogger Jada's Gigi, at Tuesday, June 27, 2006 3:27:00 PM  

Let me just play devil's advocate here (I really don't like that description).

In regard to the reference in Corinthians in which Paul states that something is his opinion, could this be the application?

That God mandates neither marriage or celibacy, that for some, His purposes are better accomplished if they are single, and for others if they were married? Taken in its context, I think this is reasonable.

Can you name any other texts where such ambiguity is used?

By Blogger Gordon Cloud, at Tuesday, June 27, 2006 5:16:00 PM  

Gigi, thanks for the encouraging comments. I don't know yet if I'm brave or stupid!! ;) hehe

Gordon, I'm not sure that your comment is of necessity a devil's advocate position. It's helpful interaction (And like you, I'm not crazy about that term!)

Are you saying, then, that the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to put his opinion down with the application being that it is up to the individual?

This is not unreasonable. However, if that is true, then when you say for some, His purposes are better accomplished if they are single, and for others if they were married, how would one determine which was better for them?

With regard to other passages that are "ambiguous", I think there are a couple other passages similar, but I can't recall off the top of my head.

I don't know. I still find the "here's my opinion" statement to be a bit odd in view of the common definition of "inerrancy". My understanding is that inerrancy is derived from the doctrine of inspiration -- i.e., if God is the author, than it can't be fallible. So, if God authored that statement by Paul, then it wasn't merely Paul's opinion. It was the word of God. Right?

You asked why I thought that the NT writers were unaware that they were being writing Scripture. This is a good example of why I think that. Paul seems very unaware at least in some situations that he is writing Scripture. Did Old Testament prophets give their opinions in the midst of their prophecying? Peter says no.

By Blogger Steve Sensenig, at Tuesday, June 27, 2006 7:17:00 PM  

Steve - I would have to dig out my history books and go through them again, but I have many references which allude to the letters being considered Scripture almost from the time of writing.

As far as the personal latters (I assume you mean the letters traditionally known as the 'Pastoral Letters'), I would imagine that Timothy would have selected elders, and would have read the letters to them as part of their training.

I am unsure where we are headed with that, but there is plenty of historical documentation for a lot of this.

The OT was Scripture in Jesus' day -- Peter references Paul's writings as Scripture within the context of the Bible (graphe does indicate Scripture), and the letters were read to the believers in the time of the 1st century, as recorded in a couple of places within the NT canon itself..

Was every letter read to all churches? I don't know the answer to that, but within a few years of them being written they were being read to congregations.

By Blogger Ray, at Wednesday, June 28, 2006 8:05:00 AM  

Ray, thanks for the follow-up. Don't worry, you're not being set up for anything. You said, "I am unsure where we are headed with that...." I honestly don't know. I'm not really headed anywhere specifically, just searching through some thoughts in my mind! :)

I think, in thinking through all of this, I am somewhat reacting to a perceived "bibliolatry" (perceived by me) in many circles.

By Blogger Steve Sensenig, at Wednesday, June 28, 2006 8:29:00 AM  

Steve, you asked a good question:
Are you saying, then, that the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to put his opinion down with the application being that it is up to the individual?

I think it would be more accurate to say that it is God's determination of what is best for each person.

I think perhaps the application here is that no one can mandate to us that we must be married or single to be "right with God". And while Paul did present this in the form of an opinion, he did say that he believed he had the mind of God on the matter.

As far as one determining what is best for them in this matter, I think that decision is made as any other life decision should be made--with much prayer and letting God work in our life through our circumstances.

There is a rule of hermeneutics that teaches that the clear is to interpret the obscure. That is, we are not to let one or two isolated, perhaps unclear texts override what we know to be clearly stated in other texts. I think that maybe that rule could be applied in this case.

I look forward to reading your next post on this.

By Blogger Gordon Cloud, at Wednesday, June 28, 2006 9:10:00 AM  

Gordon, thanks for the continued interaction. If I may, it's my turn to be a...uhhh...angel's advocate (hehe)

As far as one determining what is best for them in this matter, I think that decision is made as any other life decision should be made--with much prayer and letting God work in our life through our circumstances.

How is this not subjective? People look at circumstances and interpret them differently. One may see an obstacle as something that is testing their faith (i.e., "I need to overcome this") while another would see it as a closed door (i.e., "This must not be what God wants for me").

It seems to me that somewhere along the line, no matter how "objective" the theology is claimed to be, ultimately, there is some level of "subjectivity".

Also, I didn't understand what you meant by:

There is a rule of hermeneutics that teaches that the clear is to interpret the obscure. That is, we are not to let one or two isolated, perhaps unclear texts override what we know to be clearly stated in other texts. I think that maybe that rule could be applied in this case.

I definitely know that rule, and often appeal to it myself. But I didn't see how it applied here. Could you help me understand what you would apply it to here?

Thanks!
steve :)

By Blogger Steve Sensenig, at Wednesday, June 28, 2006 5:15:00 PM  

Steve, I agree with you that there will be some degree of subjectivity in regard to discerning the leading of the Spirit. And yes, while I consider myself to be a cessationist, I do believe that the Spirit leads us in day-to-day matters. I believe that every believer has the right to determine the will of God, along with the responsibility to do so correctly.

My objection to subjectivity is when we place the Bible under such. I do believe that we can accept the Bible in its entirety as the Word of God. If we say that only certain parts are inspired then we both devalue the scripture and elevate man to levels that are inappropriate.

As to the hermeneutic principle I stated, I consider the text in Corinthians we have been discussing to be somewhat obscure. My point is that I do not believe we should base our understanding of inspiration/inerrancy on what is at best a non-mandated meaning in that verse.

As always I have enjoyed the interaction. After reading your comments after your latest post, I realize that we really aren't all that far apart on the idea of the Spirit leading believers.

God bless.

By Blogger Gordon Cloud, at Thursday, June 29, 2006 12:01:00 PM  

Gordon, always a pleasure, my brother. I absolutely love how you and I can go around and around on some things, and yet still come back to "Hey, we're not so far apart after all"! (And by "go around and around", I just mean ongoing discussion, not anything negative.)

You continue to be a blessing to me, and I know to others here as well. Thank you, my brother.

By the way, I'm willing to concede at least most of your point about the "unclear" application to inspiration. Quite honestly, the discussion about inspiration was not meant to be as central in this topic as it turned out to be, but it was still good!

steve :)

By Blogger Steve Sensenig, at Thursday, June 29, 2006 12:09:00 PM  

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

By Blogger Gummby, at Thursday, July 13, 2006 1:52:00 PM  

Matt, thanks for stopping by. You wrote a lot, and I'm not sure I can fully respond to everything you have said in this space, but allow me to make a few comments in reply:

...I think that in your quest to deconstruct the traditional notion of Scripture you've missed the mark, and you've created uncertainty where none need exist.

I am always baffled at these types of responses. How is asking questions of traditional doctrines a "quest to deconstruct the traditional notion of Scripture"? I know that "deconstruct" is a popular word with relation to post-modernism, but what is the alternative to asking these questions? Just not asking them?

With regard to "[creating] uncertainty where none need exist", I think you miss the point of the questions to begin with. I am not creating any kind of uncertainty. As I have said elsewhere, if the doctrine can't withstand scrutiny, then it's not really worth holding to, is it?

Likewise, you comment that my "conclusion that there are uninspired writings in the Bible is incorrect." Where did I draw that conclusion? I have posed questions with some possible answers, but nowhere in these posts have I stated any firm conclusions.

Ironically, you said that there was a plain reading answer to my questions, but then wrote: What are we to make of this? Why does he specify that one command is from the Lord, and another is not? I hate to speculate....

All you've done is ask the same question I asked. And your answer begins with "I hate to speculate...." The "plain reading" of "this is from the Lord" was not being brought into question at all. So you really haven't answered the question about why Paul says that something is his opinion. (Others have tried to answer that question here, and I'm still thinking through some of those replies. But you ended up just restating the question.)

After quoting my comments about the words "The word of the Lord came to me saying...", you wrote: Unfortunately, this kind of thinking can lead to a two-tier theory of inspiration: the inspired stuff, and the really inspired stuff. Let me ask you, do you think Jesus' words...are any more inspired than John, Paul, Jonah, or Moses...? Everything in Scripture is inspired. "The Word of the Lord came to me" is followed by specific commands for whomever it is addressed to. The Word from the Lord we have received is what God preserved for us--words to the Israelites, and more.

First of all, "this kind of thinking can lead to..." doesn't really solve the problem. This tells me that you either don't think the question is valid (in which case, you should explain why you think it is invalid) or that the doctrine cannot really withstand scrutiny.

Again, why are we so afraid of these questions? My question with regard to saying that "The word of the Lord came to me, saying" is inspired was: What do we gain from that? The related question becomes, does the doctrine of inspiration go too far in what it asserts? As you know, this is my primary concern with the Chalcedonian description of the Trinity. Not "is it wrong", but "does it go too far"?

If those are not valid questions, then I don't know what is. This constant reading back into the text our understanding of certain doctrines is flat-out problematic and dishonest.

With regard to your question about the words of Jesus being more inspired, that again is restating the questions I'm asking. The answer from my end is, I am honestly not sure. Can something be "more inspired"?

The rest of your comment largely rests on circular reasoning, a logical fallacy. You say that the reason we don't have certain books in the Bible is because they were not inspired. And we know they're not inspired because...well, because the Bible tells us that it is inspired, and therefore what is included in the Bible is inspired, and the others are not.

Let me state very clearly, again, for the record, that it is not the conclusion that I necessarily have any problem with. It is the "defense" of the conclusion.

I would not have a problem believing what you have stated. And quite honestly, for the most part, I do. But why do I believe it? Or why do you believe it? Is it something to be taken by faith? Perhaps. I can live with that. But frankly, I don't think that the way these doctrines are taught and defined and spelled out really comes down to faith. They are spelled out as "systematic" (and usually claimed to be "clear" or "plain") teachings from the Bible itself, but that is not being completely honest, Matt.

Evangelical Christianity continues to equate its conclusions and interpretations with the word of God itself. That's why you end up saying that someone cannot be truly saved without signing off on the Chalcedonian Trinitarian definition. Or signing off on the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy, or whatever the doctrine is. That really elevates those writings to being on the same level as the written word of God. But they are an interpretation of the revelation we have, and as such, should not be considered infallible.

(Of course, I realize no one actually dares claim they are infallible, but then ask yourself, why are we having these discussions, Matt? Because you believe those doctrines articulate the "clear teaching" of Scripture. Am I right?)

Another thing that makes me uncomfortable about your characterization of Scripture is that it goes against Scripture. Ps 119:93 says "I will never forget your precepts,
for by them you have given me life." In fact, all of Psalm 119 is a testimony to the Word of God, in all its forms, and I think what you've said sells it short.


There continues to be this false dichotomy that says that if I don't believe that every jot and tittle in our Bible is inspired, I must be actively rejecting the teaching of the Bible.

This is hogwash. And this is why the common evangelical approach to doctrine continues to frustrate me. I may reject your interpretation of a particular passage of Scripture, but that does not mean that I am devaluing Scripture itself.

OK, so you seem to be operating on the common assumption that Psalm 119 (or anytime the Psalms refer to "Your word") is referring to the canon of Scripture that we hold in our hands today. I conceded in this post that it is possible that the Psalmist was speaking prophetically. But is it absolutely certain that he was?

What was the most important to the Psalmist? The written word, or the impact of God's revelation on his heart and life? We know from Scripture that David was not so concerned with the letter of the Law. He knew God wanted his heart (e.g. Psalm 51). Jesus even used David as an example when He referenced the eating of the shewbread. David understood that the revelation of God was a means to a relationship with Him. But it was not the end. Only a means.

Again, to get back to "what does this get us" with regard to inspiration -- my approach is not saying "I can decide what's inspired and what is not." My questions are more along the lines of, "If something is not clearly distinguished as the word of God, must we assume that it is?" Like I pointed out here, the OT is really clear about this. There are pages and pages and pages of words recorded that the prophet says are from God. So, the "plain reading" says, "Hey, this is from God." Oodles and oodles of stuff in there.

And likewise, the words of Jesus are (duh!) the word of God! He was God in the flesh speaking them. And Paul often says things to the effect of "This is what the Lord says" which, again, is a clear indication of what God is saying.

But of what benefit is it to believe that Paul was inspired to ask Timothy to bring his coat to him? Or that he was inspired to say, "This is only my opinion"? My primary question is not, is that statement inspired (although that's a corrolary question). My primary question is, "What does that buy us doctrinally, if it is?" Why did no OT prophet offer his opinion in the midst of "Thus saith the Lord"? As I pointed out in another comment on this or a related post, Peter actually indicates quite the opposite view of inspiration when he says that no prophet wrote his interpretation. That seems to possibly put the OT in a different category from Paul's letters. (Please note the very intentional use of the word "seems" and the word "possibly". I am drawing no conclusions here, as you said.)

Once again, as I conclude this lengthy response, I must ask: Where have I advocated getting rid of the Scriptures? Where have I advocated a "personal Jesus" which is contradictory to what we do have revealed?

That remains the thrust of my frustration with Dan's mistreatment of my questions (and his resultant slander), and spills over into my response to you as well.

I continue to stand with Paul in saying that the truth of the Gospel is that Jesus was crucified for our sins, was buried, and raised again. He (Jesus) is the only way to the Father, and there is no other.

Does that leave any doubt as to what my position is?

steve :)

By Blogger Steve Sensenig, at Thursday, July 13, 2006 3:55:00 PM  

Steve:
I deleted my previous comment. It was ill-advised, and poorly thought-out.

At some point I'll try to stop back in, and make an attempt to communicate better, or I make take what you've said and what I think and put it together in a post on my blog.

Sorry.

By Blogger Gummby, at Friday, July 14, 2006 5:58:00 PM  

Matt, I didn't mind your comment. I'm sorry you felt like you needed to delete it.

I look forward to interacting with you again.

Be blessed. Hope the new baby is doing well!

steve :)

By Blogger Steve Sensenig, at Friday, July 14, 2006 9:50:00 PM  

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